RENTON — When Greg Scruggs gets talking, it’s easy to envision a preacher at an old-time tent-revival, sermonizing on the gift of life, the glories of each day, and the miraculous blessings of surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligaments.
And that’s merely after asking: How ya doin’, Greg?
Get him started on the joy of playing football for the Seattle Seahawks, and he’ll unleash a jubilant monologue that might cause you to come away shouting “Hallelujah, Brother Scruggs.”
That Scruggs is a part of the Seahawks’ plans along the defensive line spurs wonderment, now doubt. He was a kid who played only one year of football in high school — preferring to pound drums in the marching band, instead.
As does any convincing speaker, Scruggs knows when to stress certain words in his message. And when he talks of his troubled and disadvantaged youth in the housing projects of Cincinnati, he punches up the word “want.”
When the topic comes to his professional opportunity, now in its third season with the Seahawks, he lingers on the adjective: precious.
To a work place that causes some to feel entitlement, Scruggs brings a marvelous humility and appreciation.
Now healthy from the knee injury that sidelined him all last season, Scruggs is fighting for a starting job along the defensive front, perhaps in the spot vacated by veteran Red Bryant. Bulked up to 310 pounds, Scruggs is expected to be versatile enough to plug the run or rush the passer.
His goals are simple: “I expect to be the best I can be,” he said. “Whatever that is, I let others decide. For me, I expect to be the best Greg Scruggs I can be, leave nothing in the tank, give everything I can to be the best me. If that’s no sacks or 20 sacks, if I did my best, that’s all I can ask for.”
The opportunity is precious, he said, because he never thought he’d make it to the NFL; and he can look back through his life, having lost friends along the way, and recognize that merely being alive is worthy of celebration.
“You never know what somebody is going through,” he said. “Maybe my smile could affect your day, my hug could affect your day, the way I’m talking to you could affect your day. Just keeping a positive outlook allows me to see that every day is a gift.”
Scruggs’ story of early privation is not uncommon in the NFL, and he stressed he doesn’t want it to sound like a “sob story.” But he often remembers the days “when my mother would feed us cheese just to hold us over until she could get something more for us, or the days when she would sacrifice what she had to feed us, and we’d keep putting water into that powdered milk just to have enough for cereal. She made sure we never starved, but there’s times when you make ends meet just by the hair on your chin.”
So, he embraces his chances to speak to youths, recounting the days when, as early as age 11, he was picking pockets. “I tell kids that I did everything but sell drugs,” he said. “I tried gang-banging and all the negative things that are so out of my character just because I wanted to fit in. I could have easily gone way down the wrong path.”
His mother never gave up on him, he said, and he got lucky when he was taken in by Boys Hope Girls Hope in Cincinnati, a nonprofit organization “that gave underprivileged kids privileged opportunities, and all you had to do was had to exemplify the want to be great in the classroom and in the community.”
The live-in home took him out of the neighborhood and surrounded him with positive influences and mentors.
“I saw the light; I saw the side of life I knew nothing about and that changed my path,” Scruggs said. “I saw what I wanted to do with my life.”
He earned a football scholarship to the University of Louisville, and was taken with the Seahawks’ final draft pick in 2012. When asked if he considered any of the players a particular “steal,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider pinpointed Scruggs. And that was the draft when they landed Russell Wilson in the third round.
Scruggs brings great energy to the practice field and to the games. So much of it, he said, is rooted in his challenging personal history.
“That made me who I am today,” he said. “If I stressed the word ‘want,’ it’s because some of us had the desire to get out of there and be somebody. I love my friends, but fortunately for me I had my eyes open to different things.”
The other critical influence, of course, was his mother.
“She never let up; she’s the one who gave me the work ethic,” he said. “She’s the reason I continue to push myself so hard.”