By Mitchell Boatman

Da’Mari Scott’s road to the National Football League has been anything but typical or smooth.

The Muskegon Heights product moved across the country to attend a prestigious high school, but struggled academically. He earned scholarships on the field, but lost them in the classroom.

Muskegon Heights native Da’Mari Scott kept running into serious problems on the road to the NFL, but still managed to break into the league. Photo/Joe Groom

Scott left his college team at Fresno State after two years, returned to the college after a personal tragedy, and was suspended following his junior season. He went unpicked in the 2018 NFL draft after a strong senior season.

The wide receiver signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent, but was cut from the roster in the preseason. Scott then signed on to the Browns practice squad, got promoted to the active roster last October, but was cut again late in the season.

Scott finally signed with the Buffalo Bills practice squad on Dec. 5 and was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 8. He played in the final three games of the regular season, logging snaps on offense and special teams in wins over the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins, and a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

There were plenty of moments when it would have been easy for Scott to call it quits, to say the dream was too hard to see through. But that’s not who he is. Each new bump in the road provided Scott with a chance to do something he loves to do – prove himself.

“I’ve got another chance to prove that I belong,” Scott told Local Sports Journal. “I knew I would get an opportunity. I was just trying to control what I could control.”

Scott has been driven to make a name for himself on the football field since he was very young. When he was a freshman in high school, his older sister was dating former Muskegon Big Red and University of Southern California wide receiver Ronald Johnson.

Scott went to visit them in California and found an opportunity too good to pass up: A chance to enroll at the prestigious Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, where he could showcase his football talents to a wide audience of college scouts.

“One day I went out to visit my sister and (Johnson),” Scott said. “The coaches saw me and told me if I came to California that I could get a college scholarship. I went back home and told my mom I wanted to go to California.”

Moving across the country as a teenager without a parent isn’t an easy call to make, but it was a chance Scott couldn’t let slip away.

“It was a hard decision,” he said. “I went by myself at first. But I was going to get a scholarship. I was working for it, all I needed was an opportunity, and I felt like me going out there would be a better opportunity for somebody to see me.”

Scott’s mother, Donna Covington, also ended up making the move to California during Scott’s high school career in LA.

“About a year and a half later, she ended up moving,” he said. “She cleaned out the crib, sold everything and moved too. By the end of my junior year she ended up being out there.”

The move to California allowed Scott to show off his skills on the football field –  but Cathedral sets its standards high in the classroom, as well.

Scott struggled academically, and the Division I college offers he was hoping for started to disappear. Teams recognized his talents, but couldn’t count on Scott to meet the academic standards necessary to play in college.

“The school when I got there was kind of harder for me, with it being a private school,” he said. “The only thing that kept me driving was that I came all the way to California, there’s no way that I’m going to come out here and not have the grades. I just had to lock in.”

Scott had to get all A’s his senior year at Cathedral, bring up his ACT score, and then go to additional summer classes. Only one college – Fresno State – was willing to bet he would pull it off, and he ended up signing a national letter of intent to attend the school.

“When I signed, I still didn’t have all my stuff together,” he said. “But Fresno believed in me and let me do it. I locked in and did it.

“I told myself, ‘I’m not going to come to California to be a JUCO (junior college) product. I could’ve stayed in Michigan for that.’”

Scott was able to go through the school year with all A’s, and achieved the ACT score he needed. But the work wasn’t done. Scott then learned he had to ace two more classes in summer school.

“I had to go to summer school and get two more ‘A’s, then I was fine to go,” he said. “I missed summer workouts going into college. I barely got it done, it was a relief. I went to camp late, but ended up playing my freshman year.”

Ups and downs at Fresno State

The academic gauntlet Scott had to run during his senior year at Cathedral was only the beginning, although his college career got off to a strong start.

Scott in action at Fresno State.

The 2013 Fresno State team went 10-1 in the regular season, won the Mountain West Conference title game, then lost to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Scott had a limited role on the team, catching two passes and returning 20 kickoffs. But he did get the experience of playing with future NFL stars Derek Carr (quarterback, Oakland Raiders) and Davante Adams (wide receiver, Green Bay Packers).

“It’s just crazy,” Scott said of playing with Carr and Adams in college. “I didn’t know how good Derek was. When I got there, he was already a true professional. He was a professional then. And I’ve got nothing but respect (for Adams), he’s just got it.”

The success of the first season didn’t last, however. Carr and Adams went to the NFL following the 2013 season and the Bulldogs struggled in 2014, going 6-8. Scott hauled in eight catches for 214 yards and a touchdown, but lost his starting spot early in the year.

“I ended up getting pulled from being a starter in the early weeks, like week three,” he said. “My sophomore year was going pretty bad. Things weren’t going well with football or back home.”

Scott’s mother had moved back to Michigan, since he was in college and there wasn’t a reason for her to stay. After the season, Scott decided to move back home to be with her.

“I decided that I wanted to leave and go back closer to my mom,” he said.

Unfortunately, she passed away just weeks after he moved back.

The tragedy put Scott at another crossroads. Having just left his team and losing his biggest supporter, it would have been easy to give up. But again, Scott battled through the hard times.

“I knew I had to get it done, because she knew I could do it,” he said. “She believed in me. That’s the only reason she moved (to California). I decided I had to do it for her.”

Scott eventually returned to Fresno State in time for the next season. His teammates voted to make Scott a redshirt – and force him to sit out a season – as a penalty for leaving the program. But his talent was too hard to ignore, and the coaches let him play anyway.

Scott as a Muskegon Heights freshman.

“I jumped right into workouts,” Scott said. “I started with threes (third string) in training camp, but after a week and a half I was a one (first string). But in my mind I was like ‘I’m supposed to redshirt, so I don’t know what’s going on.’

“I just kept going hard and Coach (Tim DeRuyter) sat me down the week after the first game and said ‘I know you’re supposed to redshirt, but I want you to play.’ They let me play the second game and the rest of that season.”

Scott registered 24 receptions for 364 yards and three scores in 2015 and seemed primed for a huge senior season in 2016.

But then came another bump in the road. Scott was declared academically ineligible for the 2016 season by the NCAA.

“I go through camp and before the first game I find out I’m ineligible,” he said. “From my sophomore year when I missed three or four weeks of school from being with my mom, I ended up failing a class.”

The ruling left Scott unable to play in 2016. But instead of letting the ban get him down, he worked harder than ever, both in the classroom and in practice.

“I was on the scout team the whole year, I was practicing like it was a game,” he said. “At the end of the season I ended up being the scout team player of the year. I won scout team player of the week basically every week.”

The Bulldogs went 1-11 during the year Scott sat out, and Coach DeRuyter was fired during the campaign.

With Scott back in the fold for the 2017 season, Fresno State made a huge leap forward. The Bulldogs went 10-4 and advanced to the conference title game for the first time since Scott’s freshman year, but lost.

“It was good, I wish we had won it, though,” Scott said. “I wanted to win the ring because the ring I won with Derek (Carr in 2013), I was just on kick return. I feel like it wasn’t my ring. I contributed to it, but that was his ring, I wanted one for me. We were successful though, so I was happy with that.”

Scott put up career numbers that year, grabbing 57 catches for 556 yards and one TD. The receptions and yards his senior season were more than his first three years combined.

Next stop: NFL

After the strong senior year, Scott began to generate buzz heading into the NFL draft. But he was projected as a potential late round pick, if he was going to be selected at all.

Playing for Cathedral High School in LA., Scott earned a football scholarship to Fresno State University.

“I talked to a lot of teams (before the draft),” he said. “I knew I was a late round to undrafted guy, but everyone wants to get drafted.”

Scott did receive phone calls from teams during Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) and Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) of the draft, but saw 256 players chosen without hearing his name called.

“On draft day, Day 2, Hue Jackson (then head coach for the Cleveland Browns) called me,” Scott said. “He said they liked me. The next day he called me again around the sixth round saying they liked me.”

Even though the Browns didn’t use a pick on Scott, they extended him a contract offer as an undrafted free agent. The deal was for three years and $1.71 million. Scott spoke with other teams, but went with Cleveland for his first NFL destination.

“Basically, I felt they had a better plan for me and had the most interest,” he said. “So I felt safer going with them.”

That feeling of safety didn’t last, because Scott was cut at the end of the preseason. He signed on to the Cleveland practice squad after his release and was eventually promoted to the active roster in October.

Scott didn’t see any game action in Cleveland, and was waived again in early December. Just days later though, he got another chance.

The Buffalo Bills signed Scott to their practice squad on Dec. 5 and elevated him to the active roster on Dec. 8.

“In Week 13 I got activated in Buffalo and was active the rest of the season,” he said. “I played in the last three games, 41 snaps. It was special teams mostly, I got a couple plays on offense.”

Scott’s run was limited in the 2018 season, but he has big plans for next year.

Scott taking the field prior to a Buffalo Bills home game last season. Photo/Joe Croom

“It was good to get some experience,” he said. “They went to the playoffs the year before, but I feel like we can do it big with (quarterback and fellow 2018 rookie) Josh Allen.”

While Scott is now an NFL player in his own right, he did admit to being star-struck once after a game last season.

“I met Tom for a few seconds after a game,” Scott said, referring to six-time Super Bowl champion and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “It happened so quick. I was walking across the field and you know how the quarterbacks usually meet. Josh Allen was behind me, so I crossed paths with (Brady).

“I was star-struck a little bit, but not until after. Like, man that was Tom – I just shook hands with Tom.”

Scott is under contract with Buffalo for the next two seasons, and is hoping he just gets the chance to do what he’s done time and time again – prove he belongs.

“I feel good,” Scott said. “I’m just training every day, just trying to get better. That’s really it. I like where we’re headed. We’ve got a good team and I think we’ll be better next year.”