MUNCIE — Statistically, Central football’s Joseph Scruggs stacks up with the best defensive playmakers in the state.
His team-high six interceptions this season is tied for sixth-most in Indiana and he’s developed into the Bearcats’ most cerebral player, according to coach Adam Morris. Central will need his ability when it hosts Class 5A No. 4 Kokomo at 7 p.m. Friday in its sectional opener.
A senior, Scruggs was a part of the football program all four years, joining back when Morris was just an assistant. Morris likes to tease Scruggs that he hasn’t grown physically since the day they met, but the same can’t be said for Scruggs’ ability on the field.
“What he’s become as a leader and how he’s produced in both football and baseball, he’s a great athlete,” Morris said. “He’s a great student, person, he does everything you want.”
Scruggs seems to be a magnet to the ball. As a sophomore, he injured his hand and was required to wear a cast. It was a hindrance in that it changes the way a player tackles and bats the ball, and makes intercepting the ball nearly impossible.
Against the odds, Scruggs had two interceptions that year, somehow finding a way to catch the ball with one hand severely limited. As a personal preference, he doesn’t wear gloves.
“I just had to squeeze the football even harder,” Scruggs said about playing with a cast. “It makes things more complicated, but I was determined I was going to catch the ball, so it was going to happen for me.”
For most of his career, he played outside linebacker. It’s a position requiring the versatility of being able to drop back in coverage, but also shedding blockers and getting to the running back and quarterback.
Against Kokomo, Central will primarily need him to step up in run support. The Wildkats ran nearly six times as many run plays as pass plays this season, dropping back just 80 times.
Before this season began, he moved to safety, usually dropping back in zone or lining up to guard a receiver when in man coverage. At safety, Central can take full advantage of his instincts. His best game this season came against Richmond, where he picked off two passes.
“I just have a great sense of where the ball is going to be at,” Scruggs said. “I notice where the quarterback’s eyes are at, what’s going on around me, where receivers are and then I break to the ball.”
As far as pro comparisons go, Morris put him in elite company. He likened Scruggs to retired Baltimore Raven and future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed, who made a living anticipating where the ball was going before anybody else due to superior instincts.
“It’s sort of like teaching a kid how to block a shot in basketball, you can’t always do it,” Morris said. “He’s a guy who has great instincts, his knack for breaking on the ball is what’s most impressive.”
Contact prep sports reporter David Polaski at (765) 213-5848. Follow him on Twitter @DavidPolaskiTSP.
ECI Teams on Friday
5A: No. 4 Kokomo (9-0) at Central (5-4), 7 p.m.
4A: New Castle (2-8) at Delta (7-3), 7 p.m.
3A: Yorktown (4-6) at No. 5 Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (7-3), 7 p.m.
2A: Elwood (4-6) at No. 10 Winchester (8-2), 7 p.m.
1A: No. 4 Tri-Central (10-0) at Monroe Central (8-2), 7 p.m.