Always giving back

Back-turned receiver makes difference off the field and on
Dec. 22, 2012 @ 09:37 PM

Next month, when Desmond Scott begins earnest preparations for his shot at professional football, he’ll train at an out-of-town gym run by people who know how to get guys ready for the NFL.

He’ll also spend plenty of time working out in Durham, his hometown, because that’s what feels right to him.

“I will be here training with my dad a lot,” Scott said. “I do think it’s a blessing to start out with him and to finish with him.”

A blessing.

That’s also why today, when Scott and his Duke teammates gather at a Belk department store in Charlotte’s swanky SouthPark Mall, he won’t be gathering his NCAA-allowed $550 worth of merchandise for himself or his family.

“I know a couple of people who are working hard in life and deserve to have and give other people Christmas,” Scott said. “That’s what I’m going to do. I don’t need anything. My family doesn’t need anything. So I’m going to go ahead and give back to those who deserve it and need it much more than I do.”

The shopping spree, the players’ reward for being part of Thursday’s Belk Bowl game against Cincinnati, is a blessing Scott is glad to pass on.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who signed Scott out of Hillside High School nearly four years ago, expects nothing else from his senior wide receiver.

“I know it’s sincere,” Cutcliffe said, “because of what he does for young people.”

He does plenty for young people on and off the Duke campus.

Within his own locker room, Scott is as respected as any player on Duke’s team.

The Belk Bowl will be Scott’s final game in a Duke uniform. He arrived in 2009 when the Blue Devils had won only 14 games in the previous eight seasons.

During his four years, Duke has won 17 times.

Heading into this season, Duke’s plan on offense – as well as the team’s collective psyche -- was thrown a curve when projected starting wide receiver Blair Holliday suffered a traumatic brain injury in a July 4 personal watercraft accident.

Later that month, tight end Braxton Deaver suffered a season-ending injury while working out.

Cutcliffe needed answers and turned to Scott, a running back who had led the Blue Devils in rushing yards as a freshman and a sophomore. It would have been understandable for any player to blanch at the idea of changing positions entering a senior season.

Scott didn’t blink, agreeing to move to wide receiver. He caught 61 passes for 606 yards, many coming in key third-down situations as Duke (6-6) qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 1994.

“After Blair got hurt, we were trying to put our best 11 on the field,” Cutcliffe said. “We had answers at running back. We didn’t have as many answers at receiver. What he did, I don’t know that anybody else could do.”

Able to properly navigate the line between confident and cocky, Scott had no doubts he could make Duke better by making the move.

“I knew I could play receiver just as good as anybody on the field at any time,” Scott said. “The challenges I knew would come and I was ready for those challenges. My teammates helped me embrace those challenges.”

Away from the field, Scott is making it his life’s work to help other people take on challenges and succeed. Along with childhood friends J. Harrison Gillespie, Megan McDonald and Cameila Morman, he’s in the process of starting a nonprofit mentoring organization called “I Am Me” which will work with students from sixth grade through 12th grade.

“(We’re) focusing on community service, mentoring, academics, athletics, problem resolution, things like bullying, dealing with adults,” Scott said. “Bringing the community closer to God. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Majoring in history with minors in African-American studies and education, Scott plans to one day open his own charter school.

That’s Scott passing on more blessings.

“Desmond does a lot of community service here,” Cutcliffe said. “He is a local product. He quietly goes about that. He does a lot with children. He will be a great principal, administrator, teacher. Whatever he does, he’ll have a great impact on young people.”

He only has one class to take in the spring semester at Duke so he can complete his degree and graduate in May. He’ll do that while training to take his run at professional football.

No matter what happens with that, he will not be a stranger at Duke’s Yoh Football Center or Wallace Wade Stadium. He plans to be around a lot, watching the Blue Devils build on the work he and Duke’s other players have done over the last four seasons.

“It took four years,” Scott said. “You can’t turn around the world in four years and you can’t change a program in three. It took four years and hopefully we have a stepping stone for other players that’s coming up to step on to push it forward.”

Scott wants the Durham community to grow right along with Duke football. Over the last four years, he’s done plenty to help both do just that.