They had long been close. "When I was little, I was always at his house. When my parents worked, that's where I stayed," Scott will remember, and now he will also remember the words his grandfather said to him on that call that came shortly after the 'Cats had lost to Michigan.
"He said, 'Great game. You played with a lot of passion. I'm proud of you.' It meant a lot. It meant a lot."
Two days later, just as the 'Cats began to prepare for their visit to Iowa, Tyler Scott learned that his 84-year old grandfather had died.
He was going to play under last Saturday night's lights. "I made it clear to the coaches I wanted to play," he says, "and they did everything to get me there." So Tyler Scott departed Evanston on Thursday, reached his home in Warren, OH that evening and, on Saturday morning, attended the funeral of the man who had meant much to him.
Now came a quick ride to the Youngstown airport, where he boarded the private plane that would carry him to Iowa City. He was there picked up by a grad assistant and together they drove to the stadium, where they arrived just as the other 'Cats were spilling from their team busses. "It was different," Scott recalls. "But once I got in the locker room, everything was the same. Same ritual. Same stuff. So it worked out really well."
The practice is called compartmentalization and it is another of the talents possessed by many of the best athletes. Last month, just days after the death of his mother, Bear linebacker Brian Urlacher played against the Saints. In the spring, a mere eight days after the death of her fiance, Virginie Razzano played in the French Open. Most famously, back in 2003, Brett Favre played the day after his father's death and threw four touchdown passes in the Packers' 41-7 win over the Raiders. So, too, would Tyler Scott play.
But. "It was difficult," he admits. "There's a lot of emotions going through your head, all this different stuff. But my family, they expressed to me, 'We're all right. We're all right. You've got to do what you've got to do. We love you. Go play your butt off and do what you can do.' That really helped, seeing they were OK and telling me to go play, do what I do. It was a long day, but my family was really supportive. I got texts from the time I left the funeral to the time I got to the game. Then the coaches and all my teammates gave me the utmost support. It was a good deal."
And when did thoughts of his grandfather leave him?
"I wouldn't say they ever totally left me. There were multiple times when I was thinking about him. But it was never bad. It was never bad. It was always inspiration. It was always like, 'I'm doing this for him.' It was just playing my heart out, giving my all every play, doing my best. So it worked out well."
Tyler Scott ended that Saturday night with three tackles, one of them for a loss, and one pass break-up. On Monday, it was announced that the coaches had selected him as the 'Cats' Defensive Player of the Game.
This was the second time this season he had received that award. He had earned it too for his work against Illinois, where he also had three tackles as well as a pair of recovered fumbles. But he is, as a sophomore, still the new kid on the block and so is occasionally confused with senior Vince Browne, the 'Cats other starting defensive end. "All the time. All the time," Tyler Scott says with a laugh. "There've been occasions, I actually walked in to see one of my advisers and she said, 'Hey, Vince.' I'm like, 'Aaaah, good to see you. But I'm not Vince.' She's like, 'I'm sorry.'"
Does he see the resemblance?
"I don't know. We're both big guys, shaved heads, dark hair. So I guess."
He was hardly a big guy when he landed in Evanston. He was instead a 6-foot-4, 230-pound prospect who had played baseball, basketball and, on the football field, quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker and long snapper for Howland (Ohio) High School. "I tried to be the jack-of-all-trades, just playing every sport," he will say. "That's what my parents told me, play as much as you can for as long as you can. I think that's really helped my athleticism."
He was surely athletic as a senior, recording 147 tackles and eight sacks and six interceptions as a linebacker and 28 catches for 423 yards and seven touchdowns as a tight end. But, remarkably (or, if you prefer, mysteriously), he received scholarship offers from only Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and the 'Cats. "I think his overall athleticism," Pat Fitzgerald says when asked what attracted him to Scott. "If you were to go and watch intramural basketball, he's probably one of the best intramural basketball players on campus. He's just a really dynamic athlete. He was a standup linebacker in high school, was really physical, really athletic. We thought, 'Twenty pounds from now, he's got a chance.' Now he's got 35 pounds."
What was the knock on him by other recruiters?
"I have no idea. We liked him from the get-go. Maybe, 'He's a 'tweener.' Maybe one of those guys, 'Is he going to be this, is he going to be that?' We don't get too caught up in that. If we believe in what we see and the video and the evaluation, we thought it was pretty obvious with Tyler. Then you couple that, academically he's a great student, he's got great leadership skills and, as good a player as he is on the field, he's 10 times the young man off the field. It's from his family. One of the funner home visits I've been on. The whole house was packed. I said, 'Who are all you people?' I couldn't remember everybody's name. But we had a great time."
Tyler Scott's time as a 'Cat didn't start out great. It was instead spent coming back from a shoulder injury. His mentors through this stretch were Browne and former stars Corey Wootton and Corbin Bryant, who themselves had come back from injury and advised him, he remembers, "To keep working, keep working, keep working. So I just set my mind to it, I was like, 'Take one day at a time. Get better. Get better.'"
He was good enough last season to play in each of the 'Cats' 13 games, most of them at his normal position, some of them at his old high school position. "Bob Heffner (the superbacks coach) would have loved to have him at tight end," explains Fitzgerald with a chuckle. "We played him a little bit there last year and there was back-and-forth. 'Hey, Marty (Long, the defensive line coach). If he can't start for you on the D line, he can start at superback.' He's a dynamic guy."
By springtime, Scott had progressed enough to be a serious challenger for the defensive end spot opposite Browne. "He's coming on, he's coming on," Fitzgerald said back then.
"We saw good things in him last fall," defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz added that same afternoon. "When he got a chance to play, he made plays. His production, you can't keep him out of there if he keeps making plays."
Did that kind of love boost Scott's confidence?
"That was a definite confidence booster," he says. "When I started, I was pretty bad. I was actually really bad. There were times when I was questioning myself, so it was a confidence booster. They kept bringing me in, they're like, 'You're doing this, this and this well. But you've got to work on this, this and this.' That really helped me. I could focus on what I needed to focus on, and just keep doing what I was doing well."
There was no seminal moment, no momentous turning point. Tyler Scott simply earned his starting spot with his August efforts at Camp Kenosha, and now he has those two awards on his resume and leads all 'Cat defensive linemen in tackles. He is, then, a prototypical blue-collar laborer who has made his mark the old-fashioned way and so, when asked if there is a special reason for his emergence, it is no surprise to hear him say, "Nah. I've just been doing my job, just trying to help the team win."
Well, then, what about a breakout moment?
"Nah. I just focus on trying to get better every week."
"I think the shoulder injury really helped him in a backwards kind of way," Fitzgerald will finally offer. "He could spend a ton of time in the weight room and I think that time away from the team was an opportunity for him to say, 'Hey, I really love football.' Now he's playing at a consistent level.