Rich Scanlon’s back to doing what he wants most – winning

Rich Scanlon is finally back home. He’s where he belongs. For too long he wallowed somewhere else – on the bench, at the wrong position or, worse yet, on a losing team.

No more, though. Now he has regained his spot, his niche on the Syracuse football team.

He’s on the field. He’s on a winning team. He’s a captain. In sum, he’s once again dominating the game which, for the first 17 years of his life, never benched him, never failed him and certainly never beat him. Scanlon, who’s No. 3 in the nation with 13.8 tackles a game, is back on top. He’s taken last season’s defense, which allowed an NCAA-worst 303.8 passing yards a game, and transformed it into one which allowed seven points to pass-happy Toledo on Saturday in a 27-point win.

‘Last year, we weren’t one of the best defenses around,’ Scanlon said before the season. ‘We need to pick this up and return this program to where it’s used to being. Me being captain, I feel that personal responsibility.’

Responsibility. It wasn’t on his shoulders for his first three seasons at SU. For the most part, he could handle that. But not the losing. It infuriated him.

He always won in football. Scanlon took winning so seriously he would yell to his teammates at Bergen Catholic High School that they would win their game – or else he’d kill them.

Luckily, no one had to find out if he was serious. In Scanlon’s senior year, Bergen Catholic finished 12-0 and won the New Jersey state championship.

‘He’s just not gonna let them lose,’ Bergen Catholic high school coach Fred Stengel said. ‘He’s just not. He’d intimidate the hell out of his teammates. And we had other guys (Indiana quarterback Matt LoVecchio, Michigan offensive lineman Jeff Gaston) who played with him who are at the college level now.’

The championship marked the pinnacle of his football career at that point. He was the New Jersey Defensive Player of the Year. He was first team all-league, all-county, all-state, all-everything.

Fast-forward three years. Scanlon’s starting nine games in his junior year at SU for a 4-8 Big East laughingstock.

‘The losing killed him,’ Stengel said. ‘Every time I talked to him, I don’t want to say he was suicidal, but he was damn-near close to it. He hated it.’

It wasn’t like high school. Scanlon had no control, really. It wasn’t his team. Linebacker Clifton Smith and cornerback Will Hunter were the captains.

Now, though, the team is his – he’s responsible for leading Syracuse’s once-porous defense.

He’s comfortable again. He’s at middle linebacker. It’s his natural position. He hadn’t always been there. For three seasons he played outside linebacker, a position more suited for a pass defender than a run stopper like Scanlon.

Following his junior year, he got a taste of middle linebacker at the Division I level. During spring practice in 2002, a pectorals-muscle injury sidelined Smith, and Scanlon stepped in only to be relegated back to the outside when the regular season started. In part, Scanlon’s 15-practice sampling convinced coaches to move him to the inside for this year.

He’s 250 pounds, up from the 206 he came to Syracuse weighing. He’s stopping the run. He’s winning. He’s dominating.

‘It’s hard to fool him,’ linebackers coach Steve Dunlap said. ‘He’s like an elephant, he don’t forget anything. It’s a pleasure coaching him. Things come easy to him.

‘He’s a real tough kid. That’s the whole persona. That’s the mentality you want out of a football player. He’s a gentleman off the field, but when he puts that football helmet on, he’s a different cat. He’s worked awful hard to get where he’s at.’

Where he’s at? Where is that exactly?

He’s on the field playing inside linebacker for a winning football team. He’s home.

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