(Eds: Updates with more details and quotes.)By JOHN MARSHALLAP College Football Writer
Matt Scott entered his sophomore season as Arizona’s starting quarterback, having no reason to believe it was anything but the start of three great years.
Instead, it lasted three games.
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His job gone and his confidence almost shot, Scott decided to stick it out at Arizona, patiently waiting for his chance to come again.
It took more than two years, but Scott finally got it.
And, boy, did he make the most of it.
Shredding defenses with his arm and his legs, Scott developed into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks his final season in the desert, securing his place in Arizona lore and possibly a spot in the NFL in a short period of time.
”Matt’s played with a chip on his shoulder since we’ve been here and you can tell,” said Rod Smith, Arizona’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
”His past experiences have driven him and he told me, `coach, I’m not relinquishing anything this year, I’ll to be the best we’ve ever had.’ He worked and prepared that way.”
It just took him a while to get there.
One of the nation’s top quarterback recruits out of Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., Scott played sparingly as a freshman, but emerged from spring drills and preseason camp as the starter in 2009.
He started the first three games, but was replaced by Nick Foles after struggling against Iowa.
Foles went on to start the rest of the season and the two years after that, leaving Scott to mostly fill in as an injury replacement or in mop-up duty.
He did well in two starts after Foles was injured during the 2010 season, piling up 688 yards of combined total offense in games against Washington and UCLA. Mostly, though, he waited around, watching instead of playing, his confidence still dented from being benched so early in his career.
”It was real tough,” Scott said. ”Coming out of high school, everybody is that guy and it’s real hard to take a backseat to someone else. It was a real humbling experience for me.”
Scott got his chance to show what he could really do this season.
After a redshirt season in 2011, he was the undisputed starter entering this season after Foles was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Scott turned out to be a perfect fit for new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s read-option offense.
An athletic 6-foot-3, Scott has a strong arm and can make every throw imaginable. He threw for 3,238 yards and 24 touchdowns, both third on Arizona’s all-time single-season list.
Scott also was a dangerous runner, finishing as Arizona’s second-leading rusher behind All-American Ka’Deem Carey, the FBS leader.
Scott had 3,723 total yards, second in Arizona history and seventh nationally this season, and had four of Arizona’s top 10 single-game performances for total yards. Against Stanford, which has one of the nation’s best defenses, he set school records by completing 45 of 69 passes and came close to another mark by throwing for 491 yards.
Not bad for a player who was mostly an unknown entity to Arizona’s new coaching staff.
”Matt Scott is a stud,” Rodriguez said earlier this season.
He’s also pretty tough.
With depth issues on the offensive line, the Wildcats had a hard time protecting Scott. There were times when Arizona’s coaches called fewer running plays for Scott to protect him and sometimes it didn’t matter what they did.
He suffered a painful hip injury against Oregon early in the Pac-12 season, was knocked out of the game against Southern California and suffered a concussion against UCLA.
Other than the concussion, which caused him to sit out against Colorado, Scott kept getting back up, even vomiting on the field a couple of times before playing on.
”Even when we didn’t run him, he took a beating,” Smith said. ”But in college football, the quarterback is going to take a beating. But he’s a tough kid. Never once did he ever want to sit out a game. He’s one of those guys who just wants to play. If it’s broke, he’ll just cut it off and keep going.”
Now it’s time for Scott to head off to his future,
Considered an average NFL prospect at the start of the season, Scott had scouts flowing to Arizona’s games this season to get a look at his arm strength, decision-making and improvisational skills.
But for Scott, there’s no time to think about that just yet.
He still has a final game to play.
After leading Arizona to seven wins in Rodriguez’s first season, Scott will take the Wildcats to Albuquerque on Saturday night to face Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.
No matter what happens in that game, Scott has already cemented his place in Arizona football history with a legacy that may be tough to match.
”Hopefully, they see me as one of the best quarterbacks to play here,” Scott said. ”I only had one season to prove that, but I think we did prove a little something.”
He sure did. It just took a while to get his chance to do it.