ATHENS -- Ask Justin Scott-Wesley a question, and he reaches to his chin, pulling on small strands of hair. He knows he’s doing it.
“This is a nervous thing,” he said. “I do it when I think.”
Scott-Wesley grew the beard during the late fall of 2013, when he had too much time on his hands.
“This is a product of the ACL injury,” he said, smiling.
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If only it were the only one. But two years later, it still looms, a moment that changed the trajectory of a career.
Two seasons ago, Scott-Wesley was on the verge of a breakout season. Then a sophomore with blazing speed, he had great moments in Georgia’s two biggest wins: an 85-yard touchdown catch against South Carolina, then the game-winning touchdown against LSU.
But early in October when Scott-Wesley was, of all things, covering a punt, his knee buckled on the Tennessee turf. He required surgery and did not return until more than a year later.
Now, as he prepares for his final college season, it’s not the injury that Scott-Wesley said is holding him back. It’s uncertainty about his role. He’s still trying to figure out where he fits on the offense.
“Just knowing exactly what the offense demands from me,” he said. “Whether I’m the deep-ball guy or the third-down guy or just coming in and blocking.”
Was he finding that role before the Tennessee game in 2013?
“We keep going back to this,” Scott-Wesley said, smiling.
He grabbed at his chin again, stroking the hair.
It’s reasonable to think that had he never been hurt he would have finished with a big sophomore season, then built on it as a junior and continued to grow as a player.
“Yeah, I was coming into my own, I was comfortable in the offense and (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo’s system,” Scott-Wesley said, referring to the former offensive coordinator who is now the head coach at Colorado State. “It was good for me. And now it’s time to learn, it’s time to move on. You can’t dwell on the past.”
This spring seems to have been a mixed bag for the Camilla native. When receivers coach Bryan McClendon listed his top players this spring, he mentioned star Malcolm Mitchell, as well as Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis.
Then the coach got to Scott-Wesley.
“Justin has come a long way, as well, but he still has a long way to go, as far as getting confidence back in his game, confidence back in his body, as far as getting back in his old form a little bit,” McClendon said.
Scott-Wesley disagreed with that, saying he does have the confidence. It just goes back to “finding my role in the offense and being comfortable with that.”
If he can and somehow return to that early 2013 form, it would be a huge lift to this offense. Mitchell is the only established receiver, and the team needs to replace Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, dependable receivers for the past four years.
Bennett suffered an ACL injury himself, about midway through the 2012 season. He returned the next season and picked up where he left off, but Bennett didn’t depend on his speed as much as Scott-Wesley.
None of this is to say that Scott-Wesley can’t have a big final season. As he points out, there’s a long time between now and when the games count.
“I know I’m not a finished product. No one is,” Scott-Wesley said. “So for me to say that I had a great spring or for me to say that I had an awful spring, I can’t really say that. We all have room for improvement. But I’m my biggest critic, and I know I can get better.”