Better than the best

After a relatively quiet first half of the football season, senior free safety Morgan Scalley has recently come out of his shell, making plays when they matter most, and single-handedly changing the momentum of several games.

Scalley, a Highland High School graduate, was the focus of much of the preseason hype surrounding the Utes. But his production in the early games of the year was surprisingly low, leading many to wonder why. Often considered the heart and soul of the U defense, Scalley was still having a significant impact as a leader, but his numbers were not what many had expected.

Scalley put his critics to rest when he opened the UNLV game with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The play was a devastating blow to the struggling Rebels, a play from which they were unable to recover. Since then, Scalley has been on fire statistically.

U head coach Urban Meyer calls Scalley “one of the best safeties in all of college football,” and his performance in recent games has validated that claim.

Since the kick return against UNLV, Scalley has blocked a field goal attempt in the early minutes of the San Diego State game. He recovered a fumble, which he returned 88 yards for a touchdown against Colorado State, as well as recording four interceptions, including two against CSU.

Prior to the UNLV game, Scalley had just one interception, but in last week’s game alone he nearly had four interceptions. Not one to sing his own praises, Scalley expressed his usual modesty after the CSU game, saying that he was disappointed with his inability to catch all four balls he had a shot at.

“I dropped two,” Scalley said. “Two out of four, that’s only 50 percent, and that’s considered failing.”

While Scalley may not have impressed himself, his performance was recognized both locally and nationally. For his efforts in the CSU game, Scalley was named Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week. And on Tuesday, he was given the Bronco Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week award. The Nagurski honor recognizes Scalley as last week’s best defensive player in the country, and also makes him eligible for the Bronco Nagurski Defensive Player of the Year award.

Always one who is looking for ways to improve, Scalley is a model student of the Meyer school of thought. He said he believes in gradual development over the course of a season, and accredits his recent success to the week-by-week progress of the entire team.

“We’re improving as a team every week,” Scalley said. “And hopefully I’m improving every week. If I stay the same, that’s no good. If I’m not improving my skills and if I think I’ve just arrived, that’s not going to work.”

Senior linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck said he is impressed by Scalley’s desire to make something happen whenever an opportunity presents itself, such as being a player who looks for extra yards when others may not share his desire.

“He’s our playmaker and he’s coming up with big plays,” Hackenbruck said. “A lot of guys, when they get a fumble, would just take it for a couple of yards, but Morgan has that mentality that he’s going to do everything he can with it.”

Hackenbruck said he believes Scalley’s success can be attributed to his love for his team.

“Morgan’s so good because he cares about his team so much,” Hackenbruck said. “I can see it in his eyes when he makes a play or takes a fumble for a touchdown, he’s doing it because he cares so much about his teammates and his coaches.”

“That’s what makes him great,” he added.

With two of the Utes’ toughest games of the year still yet to be played, Scalley couldn’t have chosen a better time to be playing his best football. [email protected]