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Utah football: For Kenneth Scott, pressure no match for purpose

Published September 5, 2014 10:39 am

Utah receiver Kenneth Scott made it through challenging childhood and major injuries
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fontana, Calif.

His mother couldn't walk. Needles of pain shot through her every time she took a step. Her limbs started to swell as she sat in the back seat of the car.

So Kenneth Scott took his mother on his back. He carried her up a flight of stairs and lowered her into bed. He was by her side for days, when she didn't eat, when she tried to make the hurt vanish with pain pills. Latricia Banks went to the hospital in the end, where she very nearly lost the healthy kidney she waited 17 years to get. This episode, during a 2011 family trip to Fresno, Calif., was just one pothole along the difficult road of Scott's life, one filled with anxiety and learning to cope.



"I've been through some things," said Banks, 43. "Scotty's been through some things."

Most fans of the Utah football team feel like they know Scott, 21. He's one of the most effusive and outgoing players on the squad. He's known to bust freestyle raps with buddy Dres Anderson after practice or dress up in costume as his superhero persona the Dark Knight. He never turns down an autograph request or a photo op with young admirers.

But underneath, there's a man driven by pride, circumstance, and the weight of dreams. He's tireless, catching passes spitting from the jugs machine after teammates, coaches and media have dispersed.

"Know one of the reasons why Scotty is really, really good?" Kyle Whittingham once stopped to tell reporters, gesturing toward Scott. "It's that."

It's all for a purpose: Make the NFL. If he can do that, he can go back to the modest, second-floor apartment where he grew up, and he can show his mother that all the things they shouldered, all the pressures of two decades dominated by illness and scraping by, it amounted to something.

"I'm trying to provide," he said of his mom. "I want to make sure she can get what she wasn't able to."

The quiet boy • Kenneth first learned to carry his own weight in the lobby of a dialysis center.

As a child, he accompanied his mother to the center near their home in San Bernadino County three times a week. He would play with toys he brought, or craft animals or tiny forts out of paper for as long as five hours a session.

His mother suffers from lupus, which she discovered soon after her son was born in Texas in 1992. What started as flu-like symptoms turned dangerous: A stroke landed her in a coma. Doctors told her family she might have three days to live.

Kenneth doesn't remember those early, scary moments, when his aunts and grandmother held him close, praying Latricia would wake up. But he remembers those lonely hours of waiting for his mother's blood to be cleaned through the network of pipes and machines.

His father wasn't around. All they had was each other.

"I had to grow up faster than I really wanted to," he said. "I would go in there every so often, but I didn't want to bother her, with what she was going through."

Family members say Scott was quiet growing up and clung to his mother. They worried about his behavior, that he was growing too introverted.

It was Kenneth's stepfather, Theo Bland, who pushed the boy out of the house, where he took up sports. He was a quick study, a natural athlete on the basketball court and a long, lanky downfield threat on the football field.

"They thought he was too old to play with the other kids — they said, 'This kid looks like Deion Sanders out there,'" uncle and former sports agent Kevin Caldwell said. "Eventually his skill set caught up to his body. I kept telling people, 'This kid has some of the best hands I've ever seen.'"

Scott enrolled at Colony High, a 30-minute drive across town — where his parents hoped he would make new friends. The commute made Scott late for his first class "almost every day," but he thrived with the Titans.

Coach Anthony Rice said Scott gained respect through his work ethic, never skipping on practice or lifting weights. He listened intently to teammates and future-NFL players Bobby Wagner and Omar Bolden and copied their habits.

When Colony needed to get the ball downfield, they went to Scotty. During his senior year, he broke bones in his foot. He came back four games later, gritting his teeth through the pain.

"His mom's illness, that's what drove him," Rice said. "He saw what she went through every day, and he said, 'If she can do what she does, I can do this.' He always wanted to make his mom happy."

Hard times • At home, money was stretched thin.

Anything Scott got — clothes, toys, sports equipment — was precious to him. Banks became an expert at making big purchases on layaway, saving up for holidays and birthdays. Caldwell remembers how Banks always seemed to find a way to save if her son needed something.

They had little left for frills.

"We didn't have no Christmas tree for a long time," Scott said. "Growing up, it was like, 'Here you go.' And that was it. But it meant a lot."

Scott was hungry from time to time, when free or reduced-price lunches of chips and soda didn't stretch far enough.

The long-term solution, to Scott, was football. If he could go on scholarship, he could ease the burden on his family and start carving a path to the pros. He calculated his chances were better in football, where his size and skill set would be more likely to get a scholarship than his first love, basketball.

Money wasn't the only problem: Life in his neighborhood wasn't always safe. When he was 16, he heard loud bangs from a basketball court near his house. He raced toward the sound to find a friend in a car, shot to death.

He didn't tell his mother he knew the boy who had been killed until last year.

Banks knows her son has his secrets.

Her scars are on her skin, scratched across her arms from years of medical procedure. Scott's are concealed, hidden within himself.

"It's funny, because we try to protect each other," she said. "I tried to keep him from seeing me in the hospital, I didn't want him to see everything I went through. And he doesn't want me to know everything that he goes through, either."

Finding an outlet • Scott committed to Utah as a junior in high school, a decision that initially concerned his parents. Banks called up Aaron Roderick in a huff to tell him it wasn't right to accept a commitment from a 16-year-old "child."

But they were won over after talking to the coaching staff, and learning more about the Utes' program. The family saw an opportunity to send their son far away from the stress of living at home.

"We realized it's perfect for the dude," Bland said. "He's out on his own, and that's where it's best for him to be."

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Scott had grown into a chiseled, hard-nosed receiver. The Utes were excited to sign him, not just for his obvious talent, but for his ever-churning desire to become better.

"You have to drag him off the field, really," Roderick said last month. "When he runs in practice, he runs himself to exhaustion."

He set off, inspired to be a great receiver at the U. But the brakes soon came on after he broke his ankle in fall camp, leaving him out for a year.

He had struggled with bouts of anger throughout his life, but now he couldn't hold it all in. He was prone to outbursts with little provocation. The pressure had overtaken him.

"I was like a volcano," he reflected. "I put so much in, and I was trying not to show it. I could just explode at any moment."

In therapy, Scott found a place he could get release. He unpacked his feelings: his anxiety about his life growing up, his anger toward his father for not being around, his overwhelming desire to succeed at football.

He didn't solve all of his problems, but he talked about them three times a week, a few hours every session. It was his emotional dialysis. It helped.

Emotion is still something Scott struggles with today. He doesn't take well to slights, and he sometimes can get into clashes with referees and opponents.

"His biggest strength can sometimes get in his way," Roderick said. "He's such a competitor, he plays with great emotion. We talk about channeling that into execution, not getting distracted."

Scott had another season-ending injury last year in the first game of the season, but has since worked his way back to the top of the depth chart. He had 57 yards and touchdown in his first game back.

"We know we'd do great things together," said fellow receiver Anderson. "We always just encouraged each other to be the best and hopefully one day take over. Right now is our time."

Still grinding • It's taken four years for Scott to find a comfortable groove.

He lives in Taylorsville with his girlfriend, former Utah basketball player Brittany Knighton, and his two dogs Duke and Deuce. When he has free time, he likes to play raquetball or work on his music.

Among his lyrics, for "SoulMusic": "Grinding like a savage/not cool with being average … Coming where I'm from/you've got to have ambition."

Scott wants to put himself in contention for best receiver in the nation. If he keeps catching jump balls and deep passes like he has in fall camp, he might gradually wedge himself in.

But his dreams are nothing without the woman who inspired them.

Banks came to visit her son last week to see her first Utah home game.

She's no longer on dialysis, granted new life by a kidney that came — of all places — from a donor in Utah. Since her surgery in 2010, she still struggles with her illness, but is no longer chained to machines.

She sat behind the team in the second row, her son nearly always in earshot, cheering with abandon. After Scott scored his first touchdown in two years, he blew a kiss in her direction.

On the way to the airport, Scott told his mom he's on a Utah billboard now. He's a step closer to being where they've always dreamed he'd be.

His accomplishments have brought his mother some peace. As he chases his NFL ambitions, she hopes he's closer to finding some for himself.

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon A closer look at Kenneth Scott

O Born Sept. 19, 1992 in Galveston, Texas.

• All-state receiver at Colony High in Fontana, Calif.

• Caught 90 passes for 1,704 yards and 15 TDs for the Titans.

• Had 32 receptions for 360 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore for the Utes.

• Suffered season-ending injuries in 2010, 2013.

• Caught four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in his return to game action against Idaho State. Fresno St. at Utah

O Saturday, 1 p.m.

Pac-12 Network

 

 

 

 

 

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