Passing the test; Scott Otis defied the odds to make the NFL

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

Scott Otis felt a twinge of satisfaction as he stood in the shadow of Fontana Field while track officials scrambled to measure his javelin throw at a cold spring meet in 1991. For three years of varsity football, he maintained that his arm could beat most teams.

This throw certainly proved it.

Former Blue Knight track coach Pete Sepko remembers that day because the record-setting throw should have been even farther. Officials had to reach up the hill at the edge of the soccer field because Otis had stuck the javelin into the hill like a dart in a bullseye.

“I was going to throw the whole area back about 20 feet or so because I felt that Scott was going to start launching big ones pretty soon,” said Sepko. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do that. The throw was 221 feet, 10 inches, but it landed part way up the bank for that upper soccer field. It would have probably gone about 230 feet if I had moved the mark.”

Don’t feel too badly for Otis. After more than 20 years, his throw still ranks as the best by a Knight. Southington boasts just a handful of 200-foot throwers, but Otis beat them all by more than 10 feet.

“He had a lot of natural talent. He has a great arm, great size, and good leaping abilities,” said Sepko. “He never played baseball, so he didn’t have any poor delivery problems that we had to correct when he was a sophomore, and then he got bigger and stronger as years went by.”

With an arm like that, how come he didn’t set state records under Jude Kelly’s coaching? Why didn’t Otis shatter passing records in Kelly’s air raid attack? How does a guy that can throw a javelin with precision over 200 feet manage just 12 touchdowns in three varsity seasons?

One word: Timing. The air raid attack didn’t hatch until after Otis went on to college. In his early years, Kelly was focused on running the ball.

“As we progressed to a spread style attack, he certainly would have been one of the top quarterbacks,” said Kelly, “but I had Scott in my first years at Southington, and we were running the wishbone, which is a system that I used before. We knew he had a strong arm, but we probably only threw 3-5 passes per game and ran the rest of the time. He was a big, strong quarterback, and he did okay, but we didn’t end up throwing the ball until after he left.”

That was a theme that ran through Otis’ entire career. He was the go-to guy when teams were in transition. It hurt him in high school and as an underclassman in college, but it prepared him for two breakout seasons that shattered records, swung the spotlight toward a small, West Virginia school, and landed the Southington native smack dab in the NFL.

It’s one of the most unlikely paths to the professional leagues that anyone has ever taken.

“I don’t really talk about it that much. It takes some urging or egging on just to get me talking about some of these things,” Otis said as he shifted in his seat at a local coffee shop. “I sort of keep it close. I know in the back of my mind how much work I put into it. Sure, the ultimate goal is to get to the NFL, but with every little baby step I felt like I was getting close.”

Otis wasn’t bred to be a professional quarterback. He wasn’t shipped around the country for high priced camps or high profile contests. Otis was just a local kid with a toughness that was fostered in the midget football leagues. He never considered himself a superstar until a growth spurt hit him in junior high school and he tried out for the Kennedy team.

“All of a sudden, I was this 6’2” or 6’3” skinny kid with a decent arm,” he said. “I always had some athletic ability when it came to sports, but I always thought that it would be basketball that I would play. As I began to progress with football, we found that I was able to throw the ball, and it came pretty natural to me.”

Otis rose quickly through the ranks, but he still wasn’t the obvious choice for quarterback when he arrived at the high school, but the Blue Knights were in transition. Long-time coach Dom D’Angelo retired, and Kelly arrived with his wishbone attack. Otis earned his quarterback position when the top thrower shifted to running back.

“I was athletic, but we had a kid named Dave Green that was a much better fit for the position,” said Otis. “I was tall and the center was only like 5’9”, so it was almost like my butt was touching the ground when I took the snap. But because of the wishbone, we ended up utilizing Dave more as running back. That was good for me.”

Otis never had a chance to showcase his abilities in a varsity game. It wasn’t until Kelly brought some players to a UConn football camp that Otis began to turn heads. The next year, he was invited to Duke University where he began to show some promise for his throws. Otis considered transferring to a school like Xavier so that he could showcase his skills, but he wanted to compete with his friends.

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