By LARRY VAUGHT
Since he first saw him at a quarterback challenge camp as an eighth-grader, Drew Phillips has felt that Nik Scalzo had unique abilities that most quarterbacks do not have.
“He’s a great kid. Works extremely hard on the field. He’s humble but confident in his ability,” said Phillips, owner/director of the Phillips Quarterback Academy. “I have had the opportunity to watch him develop and grow.”
The 5-11, 185-pound quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has grown enough that he verbally committed to UK’s 2019 recruiting class last week. He completed 175 of 307 passes for 2,065 yards and 23 touchdowns with just six interceptions last season. He threw for 2,221 yards and 27 touchdowns with just nine interceptions as a sophomore.
He had numerous Division I scholarship offers, but many major schools have been hesitant to offer because he’s 5-11 and not 6-3 or taller. Phillips has debated with college coaches numerous times that Scalzo has more than enough size to succeed in college.
“Nik is a unique talent. He understands what it takes to win and is determined to show everyone he has what it takes to be the best,” Phillips said. “His ability to move around the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield is as good as I have seen.
“He also does a great job of protecting the football, not allowing other teams the opportunity to gain extra possessions. He can spin it with the best of them. He plays in South Florida, so he has already competed against some of the best talent in the nation … many guys committed to other SEC schools … and he has success doing so.”
Scalzo was ready to verbally commit to UK after offensive coordinator Eddie Gran told him he was one of UK’s top prospects. However, Gran told him to make sure while he also talked with the other UK coaches.
“He called later and said he would love for me to commit, so I did,” Scalzo said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing for a Power Five school, especially in the SEC. I worked so hard to get this type of offer. I knew I wanted to come to Kentucky because all the coaches treated me like family. My parents are even more excited than me about this, too.”
Scalzo won’t forget those who have doubted him because of his size.
“Quarterbacks my size are playing Division I football and the ones that do have a chip on their shoulder and work even harder,” Scalzo said. “Kentucky knows what they are getting with me and wanted me. Drew told me when we first met that it’s not size but heart that matters. There a bunch of 6-4, 6-5 quarterbacks playing in college and I can do exactly the same things except I have a chip on my shoulder to show I am better.”
Kentucky’s coaches have had a terrific knack for identifying young quarterback talent. First it was Florida quarterback Mac Jones, who switched to Alabama after first committing to UK. Next it was Georgia quarterback Jarren Williams, who committed to UK but then changed to Miami.
“I think Kentucky did a great job of evaluating how talented he is,” Phillips said. “All you need to do is turn on the film to realize the kid is talented. I’ve been in several disputes with other schools about him (Scalzo) and the only thing they don’t like about his game is his size. You see what Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel were able to do (in college winning the Heisman Trophy), and I believe Kentucky see’s that same magic in Nik.”
Scalzo points to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is listed as 6-0 and has thrown for over 70,000 yards and nearly 500 touchdowns, as proof that a quarterback doesn’t have to be 6-4 or bigger to succeed even in the NFL.
“I have always been one of the shorter quarterbacks. I am playing in South Florida against Division I talent all the time. I deal with great players every year,” Scalzo said. “I have had to develop my vision and also use my body to get out of trouble. I also like to think I am pretty smart. I can read a defense before the play happens and know what coverage they are in. I take a lot of pride in my pre-snap reads. Last season I didn’t have an interception until week nine, then I threw three in one game.”
He watches film daily. Normally he’ll watch film an hour before school and then watch more after practice. His coaches have taught him it is a “necessity” to know who he is playing and how to overcome what they do.
He’s not sure if he will be able to enroll early at UK or not. His high school does not have early graduation even though he will have enough credits in December to graduate.
“I am trying to find a way to work around it,” Scalzo said. “I would really like to do it (enroll early).”
But could he flip if he has a big summer or senior season and other schools come after him like they did Jones and then Williams?
“No sir. That’s not me. I stay true to my word.I don’t care if Alabama or anybody else comes knocking. Nothing’s going to change my mind about Kentucky,” Scalzo said. “I am not going to do what these past quarterbacks have done these last few years. Kentucky has been recruiting me since I was a freshman and I respect that. I know Kentucky has had quarterbacks flip, but I am not doing that.”