Too short? Saints rookie RB Boston Scott shrugs off doubters

METAIRIE, La. -- It's easy to get overlooked when you're the shortest player in the 2018 NFL draft.

That's been the case for New Orleans Saints running back Boston Scott for much of his football-playing life.

The 5-foot-7, 203-pounder said he didn't make his middle school team in sixth grade because he was too short.

Then he didn't get recruited out of Zachary High School in Zachary, Louisiana -- only getting a feeler from Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas -- before Lousiana Tech offered him a shot as a walk-on.

And he wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine this year before his home-state Saints drafted him in the sixth round.

But you know what's harder than getting noticed when you're Boston Scott?

Tackling Boston Scott.

His highlight reel looks like a game of pinball, with would-be tacklers bouncing left and right (when they aren't missing the shifty back in the open field, that is). After he ran for 1,047 yards and scored nine touchdowns as a senior, Pro Football Focus ranked Scott second among all draft-eligible running backs in both forced-missed tackle percentage (26 percent) and average yards per carry after first contact at or behind the line of scrimmage (3.11).

"There's some people that would rather have that 6-foot running back. But as my father always told me, 'If his feet touch the ground, he's tall enough,'" said Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz, echoing his legendary coaching father, Lou Holtz.

"He's low and he's strong," Skip Holtz continued. "I think where he improved the most is becoming more of a physical runner. He's always had the ability to shake people, turn, twist and move in the open field. But the weight that he's put on, I think he liked it, and he started running through tackles.

"Kind of his mindset was, 'I'm not gonna get tackled.' There's some running backs that run until they get hit. But you've gotta tackle Boston."

The undersized running back is hardly some new revolutionary wrinkle. Hall of Famer Barry Sanders was 5-foot-8, as is Tennessee Titans back Dion Lewis, who stressed this during his breakout year with the New England Patriots last season: "I'm small, but I'm not little."

Maurice Jones-Drew, who had a standout career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was 5-foot-7. One of last season's breakout rookie runners, the Chicago Bears' Tarik Cohen, is 5-foot-6.

And no one in New Orleans will forget the 5-6 Darren Sproles, who has been tearing up the NFL for more than a decade.

But the difference between Scott and guys such as Sproles and Cohen is how much damage he inflicts in traffic.

Scott, who was actually a state powerlifting champion in high school, said he "absolutely" loves running between the tackles.

"I believe that running back is an art. And once you learn it, I can actually use my height to my advantage," said Scott, who explained that since defenders can't see him behind the line, he can wait until they commit to shooting a certain gap and he can shoot through another one.

Then after that, he relies on "just an unwillingness to go down."

"I want to churn, I want to get as many yards as I can," Scott said. "Just having that 'go get it.'"

Scott is a candidate to play a significant role for the Saints this season. He is competing with fellow backs such as Jonathan Williams and Trey Edmunds to fill in as Alvin Kamara's backup while Mark Ingram serves a four-game suspension to start the season.

If the Saints like what they see, Scott could play a bigger role in the future, since Ingram is heading into the final year of his contract.

Sure, Scott is a bit of a long shot as a sixth-round pick. But Saints coach Sean Payton specified that New Orleans drafted him to be a running back first and foremost, and not just an extra body for special teams.

And Scott's history proves you shouldn't ... ahem ... sell him short.

He started playing football in seventh grade -- as a defensive end. "And I did pretty well. I'm not gonna lie to ya," Scott said with a smile.

Then he started playing running back in ninth grade at Zachary High, where it didn't take him long to make an impression.

"One of our freshman coaches after the first couple weeks, I asked him how things were going," recalled Scott's high school coach, Neil Weiner. "And we had a young man nicknamed JQ, who was a big, good-looking running back. And the coach just said, 'You know, JQ looks good. But the best guy we got is Boston Scott.'"

That continued all the way through Scott's high school career -- though Weiner wound up being just as impressed with Scott's character off the field.

"His junior year ... we had a really talented senior class, but not a lot of high-character guys in leadership roles. So there were lots of times, just dealing with locker room issues and team chemistry and things like that, we had to fight through some things. And Boston was kind of one of those steady guys," Weiner said. "He was able to really connect a team, coaches. Just kind of has that magnetic personality about him."

Weiner had no qualms about playing a shorter running back -- perhaps because of his own history as a teammate of 5-foot-9 Warrick Dunn at Baton Rouge Catholic High School.

"Coaches like to win, so they're gonna put winners on the field," Weiner said.

Weiner said he was disappointed, but not surprised, when the recruiting offers failed to fly in.

"I know how college recruiting works. It's kind of like trying to find a girlfriend -- you try to find the pretty ones first, then you go with one that you can trust," Weiner said. "So when coaches came by, we'd tell him how great he is. Then they'd see him and they'd go, 'Oh well, we gotta get somebody else.'"

Credit former Louisiana Tech assistant Jabbar Juluke for seeing past that.

The New Orleans native "stood on the table" for Scott, according to Holtz, before he got his walk-on offer (and eventually a scholarship).

Holtz and the rest of the coaching staff were quickly impressed by those intangible qualities Weiner talked about.

Scott really showed his determination and perseverance in college when he started to battle symptoms of a rare muscle condition called cramp-fasciculation syndrome, which led to unexplained cramping and fatigue. He left the team for a short time during the spring to deal with the issue before he found a medication that helped alleviate the symptoms.

Scott had to wait his turn behind two other 1,000-yard rushers at Louisiana Tech -- Kenneth Dixon, who is now with the Baltimore Ravens, and Jarred Craft. But he eventually carried on the tradition.

"A self-made success story. That would be the first thing that comes to mind," Holtz said. "A phenomenal young man. He led our [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] group with our team. A leader, well-spoken. ... He's that guy that you come in at 6 in the morning, you look out on the field and he's out there doing cone drills by himself. He's got a great work ethic."

Scott is plenty driven. But he insisted he's not the kind of guy who is carrying a chip on his shoulder from being underestimated his whole life.

"You can go on with those kinds of things. But I do my best not to focus on who's underestimating, who's saying this or that," Scott said. "That's good for motivation. But I do it for the people who believe in me."

And that list grows longer by the year.