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Former Penn State football player can earn massive opportunity in NFL rookie year

A remarkable story of triumph over tragedy, former Penn State center Juice Scruggs now faces a massive opportunity in his NFL rookie season.



Penn State Football, Juice Scruggs, NFL
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (70) reacts after a play against the Utah Utes during the first half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For a moment, imagine being one of the best high school football players in the entire country. People from all over the country take notice of your football ability. You get offers from all the big schools: Penn State, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, and more. Then, you commit and start your collegiate career, with dreams of one day playing in the NFL. This is what happened to former Penn State football player Juice Scruggs, until one instant almost took it all away. But now, the ex-Nittany Lion center has the chance to earn a massive opportunity in his NFL rookie season.

Tragedy strikes Juice Scruggs

Juice Scruggs was a four-star center in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports. Scruggs, the fifth-ranked center in the nation, played his high school football at Cathedral Prep in Erie, PA. He chose Penn State over the likes of many other college football powers. 

Scruggs redshirted his first year in Happy Valley. The talented center prospect expected big things in his first year of playing time. But what came next nobody expected. Early in 2019, a week before spring practices, Juice Scruggs was involved in a serious car accident. The accident left Scruggs with fractured vertebrae in his back and a concussion. The Penn State offensive lineman was hospitalized for a week and forced to wear a back brace for several months. Needless to say, Scruggs missed the entire 2019 season, and was lucky to even be alive.

Scruggs used a scooter to get around campus and started lifting with former strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt using the back brace. In 2020, he earned the Tim Shaw Thrive Award for a Penn State football player who “overcame adversities and been an inspiration to his fellow teammates.” After waiting 17 months to play again, Scruggs got his chance.

Scruggs excels at Penn State

Scruggs took time in 2019 to learn all the other offensive line positions. This would contribute to his ability to take snaps at center and both guard positions. In the shortened 2020 season, Scruggs saw time in seven games. In 2021, Scruggs started all 13 games for Penn State football. He earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors and Penn State’s Dick Maginnis Memorial Award, “recognizing the most outstanding offensive lineman” on the roster. 

In 2022, Juice Scruggs was named a team captain and started all 13 games at center. His best showing was likely at Auburn, where he was named Offensive Player of the Game. In the postseason, Scruggs was named All-Big Ten third team by the coaches. His game was characterized by versatility on the offensive line (playing multiple positions) and athleticism. Penn State could pull Scruggs at center or guard, making lanes in the run game. This versatility helped him be drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round (62nd overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Former Penn State center has big opportunity in NFL rookie year

In 2019, it was hard to imagine Juice Scruggs would be able to play football again. If he did, it certainly would not be to the level he previously could. But that was an incorrect hypothesis. Scruggs became a team captain and led the Nittany Lions to a Rose Bowl victory. He was talented enough to become one of the top linemen in the NFL Draft. Certainly, that was a stark difference from watching his teammates on the sidelines in 2019. 

Now, an opportunity has come Scruggs’ way in the NFL preseason. Scott Quessenberry, the Texans’ starting center last year, tore his ACL, meaning that Scruggs can become Houstan’s starting center moving forward. It gives Scruggs a chance to show his talent early on.

People around the league have taken notice. Former offensive lineman and NFL analyst Brian Baldinger reviewed some Scruggs’ reps from Houston’s first preseason game. After the Quessenberry injury, Scruggs talked to the media about potentially becoming the starting center. The Penn State product talked about the next-man-up mentality and how he plays every day like it is his last.

Juice Scruggs has the chance to do something nobody thought he could: come back from a major injury and become a starter in the NFL. It’s truly one of the great offseason storylines. Penn State fans should be psyched to see Scruggs starting in Houston this season. 

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