Staying ready: Cal safety Daniel Scott is built for every moment

photo of Daniel Scott
Eliana Marcu/Senior Staff

Related Posts

F
ootball is a game of inches. That statement has been repeated by many, but it perhaps rings most true for safeties. Playing the safety spot requires not only the ball skills and athleticism necessary for other positions but also an uncanny ability to visualize the game before it even starts. In short, safeties must be versatile.

“You have to be buttoned up and dialed in mentally enough to where you can’t miss any of your cues because you’re the last line of defense,” said Cal football safety Daniel Scott. “If we blow our coverage, it’s a touchdown every time.”

Scott, a redshirt senior from Pasadena, California, didn’t always know that he would end up playing in Memorial Stadium on Saturdays. But what he did know was that no matter where life took him, his versatility would keep him ready.

Growing up in a family full of football talent, Scott received exposure to the sport from a young age. His father, Duane Scott, played at the collegiate level and attended NFL tryouts before a knee injury derailed his career. Similarly, Scott’s older brother, Chris, saw his football aspirations cut short by a blow to his knee. While late-night drill sessions with their father and Pac-12 game viewing parties solidified the brothers’ foundation in football, Scott remained versatile.

A swiss army knife of an athlete, Scott played both sides of the ball in his time at St. Francis High School — not to mention, he played basketball and baseball too. In his spare time, he swam and surfed during family vacations to Newport Beach. Until his senior year, his skills as a point guard from Amateur Athletic Union and club ball only improved his floor general-style leadership on the back end.

But despite possessing such a wide arsenal of abilities, Scott had to wait for his moment. He did not receive a Division I offer until late in his senior year — long after football season had ended.

“You don’t ever know when your time is going to come, but you’ve always got to be prepared,” Scott said.

The Scott family was ready to commit to Fresno State in 2017 after heavy recruitment efforts by Jeff Tedford, former Cal head coach and the Bulldogs’ top man at the time. Ironically enough, Scott’s basketball abilities turned the tide of his recruitment process on the last weekend before signing day.

Former Cal defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander was in Southern California when he gave Scott a phone call on a Thursday night in 2017. Hours later, Alexander was at Scott’s varsity basketball game, parsing his way through a crowd of several Fresno State coaches. Despite the Bears’ delay in joining the race due to the hiring of head coach Justin Wilcox that January, a potential scholarship and the promise of a UC Berkeley diploma lured Scott in for an official visit that weekend.

“He went up there, and when he came back down, he was a Bear,” Scott’s father said.

I
t appeared Scott’s time had finally come — or so he thought.

Redshirting his first year at Cal, Scott sat behind “The Takers,” the blue and gold’s feared defensive backs unit. While he had to wait even longer, an 18-year-old Scott embraced the chance to learn from veterans such as Traveon Beck, Ashtyn Davis, Jaylinn Hawkins and Camryn Bynum, the latter three of whom are currently in the NFL.

“I was just trying to be a sponge as much as I could around them. Continuing to try to figure out little bits and pieces that you could take from someone else and bring into your own game is the best approach,” Scott said. “I still watch some of Jaylinn and Ashtyn’s film today from practices two and three years ago just to make sure that I’m aligning like a pro.”

Scott’s determination to learn from peers and stay prepared paid dividends when he did get opportunities. In the 2019 Big Game, Scott nabbed a diving interception. Weeks later, he made his first career start in the Redbox Bowl against Illinois, helping Cal secure its last bowl game victory. His knack for making plays in high-pressure situations earned him a starting nod last season.

The decision didn’t come as a surprise to those around him. Scott’s teammates and roommates Josh Drayden and Cameron Goode have both seen firsthand the safety’s dedication to being great. It was the stuff that didn’t show up on box scores that elevated Scott’s presence in the locker room.

“In the weight room, he’s doing the most weight. He’s staying after, getting his work in and doing some extra abs. Even just being his roommate, the way he eats — he makes his protein shakes every time he needs to, he eats the right stuff every day,” Drayden said. “It’s consistency, and you just see it. He makes everybody around him better.”

Now, as a Cal graduate and a redshirt senior, Scott aims to provide mentorship for younger players the way the Takers did for him.

“As I grew here at Cal, I started to realize I can make an impact on this team,” Scott said. “For any freshman walking through these locker rooms, if they’ve got a question about campus or they’ve got a question about school, I’m making sure that at least they’re comfortable enough to come to me when they want to.”

photo of Daniel Scott

S
cott’s role reversal speaks to the growth process he has undergone in his years at Cal but, once again, points to his versatility. That versatility stems from his upbringing — an upbringing in which his father enrolled him in multiple positions and multiple sports, but also one in which his mother, Janet Scott, emphasized education as a top priority.

“There’s not many situations that I would feel uncomfortable putting him in,” his brother said. “He’s always risen to the challenge, whether that’s getting a grade on a test so Mom doesn’t get on him or getting late-game interceptions so Dad doesn’t get on him.”

That balance has paved the way for Scott’s future. While he is keenly aware that he must produce a stellar season in 2021 to further his NFL aspirations, he’s ready for whatever comes next. A bachelor’s degree in sociology from the No. 1 public university in the United States is not a bad place to start.

For Scott and his family, the decision to commit to Cal extended far beyond the white lines and golden bleachers of Memorial Stadium. It was always about the bigger picture: life after football.

“Even if you’re Tom Brady, the gig is going to be up at some point,” his brother said.

In the same way that Cal’s coaches found on-the-field value in his versatility, Scott found off-the-field value in the versatility offered by a UC Berkeley diploma.

“Cal is a 90, 80, 50-year agreement when you come here,” Scott said. “There’s so many intelligent people that walk this campus on a day-to-day basis and to not take full advantage of that, you’re doing a disservice to yourself.”

Scott is the type of person you want in your inner circle. Despite graduating last spring, he continues to expand his social and professional network both on and off the field. In preparation for his post-football days, he has completed internships at several companies and holds a strong interest in sports marketing should his NFL dreams fail to pan out.

But whether it is patrolling the field on Sundays or wherever else he ends up, Scott and his “village” are confident in his ability to adapt. Because the reality is that Scott ends up where he wants to end up. After all, he sees the game play out before it even happens.

“Have you ever played 2K? The feeling when you shoot the ball and it’s a green release — that’s Daniel. He’s a green release,” Drayden said.

So yes, playing safety requires speed and textbook technique. But at their core, a great safety stays patient and ready, pouncing on any and every opportunity that presents itself. And if that doesn’t already sound like Daniel Scott, just listen to how Cal’s last line of defense describes himself.

“A fiery chameleon. I’m a chameleon in the sense that I can mesh into environments that I enter and figure out what I need to do with whatever experience that I have,” Scott said. “But at the same time, I’m real driven and continuously improving, knowing that there’s an end goal and I’m going there.”

Kabir Rao covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @kabirr26.