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

“I should have probably gone someplace else, but I didn’t want to,” he said. “I played my whole life in Southington. Growing up, I played with them or against them in the midget leagues. I was looking forward to playing at the high school.”

So Otis settled into the running program and resigned himself to his role. Southington struggled to a 4-6 record in his sophomore season. The following year they dropped to just three wins. As a senior Otis’ team rallied to an 8-2 record, but coaches didn’t come calling to see Otis’ arm. Kelly decided to try a less conventional way to showcase his young thrower.

“Schools recruit athletes, and they can see things from the tapes. Very few colleges ever look at statistics. They want to see the strength of the arm, how they react under pressure, and things like that,” said Kelly. “We knew he had a strong arm, and we knew he had some college talent, so we videotaped our pre-game with him taking the snaps, the steps, and throwing all the different pass patterns that we had in our system. The wishbone showed that he had some toughness and some size to him, but they also had a chance to see the strength of his arm.”

The gamble paid off. The University of West Virginia signed the Southington hopeful, but once again Otis found himself with a program in transition. The Mountaineers were coming off an undefeated season and a championship game in the Fiesta Bowl, but a new coaching staff wasn’t as committed to Otis as the ones that recruited him.

“At the time, they hadn’t really recruited that truly athletic quarterback, so I thought that I had a chance to go there and compete,” he said. “Later, I found out that they signed five quarterbacks that year. They had a couple of incumbents, but after my red shirt year I actually ended up being the third string quarterback for my first couple of seasons.”

Other quarterbacks from his freshman year switched to different positions or different schools, but Otis was determined to stay at quarterback. He had a good spring camp as a sophomore and was a top prospect in the program, but coaches approached him before summer to tell him that they were going with their younger recruits. Otis to make a decision to play another postition, transfer, or ride the bench. Otis wanted to be a quarterback.

“At that time, it wasn’t about having any aspirations to play NFL football. I had just put in the time and the work. I just wanted to play on Saturdays,” he said. “I just wanted to see the fruits of my labor from my time commitment. I wanted to see if my abilities truly were what I thought they were.”

He considered returning home to play at UConn as they made the transition to NCAA Division I-A, but he settled into a small West Virginia school that was making the transition from a NAIA program to an NCAA division II team. Glennville State College had a young coach that shared Otis’ excitement about the passing game. Rich Rodriguez is now coaching at the University of Arizona, but he got his start molding Otis into a professional prospect.

Once again, Otis took a chance with a team in transition. This time, it paid off.

“It was the best decision that I could have made,” he said. “It gave me a chance to learn a wide-open spread offense. Rich had an unbelievable mind for the game and all the little nuances that were all brand new to me. I was sort of learning it all on the fly and picking it up as fast as I could. Each week was a learning experience.”

In his first season, he completed a pass to Chris George that broke Jerry Rice’s all-time collegiate reception record. Otis went on to shatter school records and draw the attention of NFL scouts. Twice, Otis completed six touchdown passes in a game. He threw for 5,986 yards in two seasons with the Pioneers and still ranks in the top three at the school in career offense and touchdown passes (34) even though he only played for two seasons.

He ranks fourth on the all-time list with a 575 yard passing performance in one game and ranks fifth in school history with a 569 yard game. He still ranks as the most efficient passer in WVIAC conference history with a 147.8 quarterback rating.

“Even if the NFL never came knocking, I would still be sitting her talking about Glennville with a grin on my face,” said Otis. “That was the best way that I could have finished my college career—bar none.”

But the NFL did come knocking, and Otis found himself showcasing his skills to NFL scouts at the University of West Virginia complex in front of the same coaches that felt he wasn’t good enough to play.

Otis wasn’t drafted, but he worked his way onto the lineup for the Baltimore Ravens behind Vinny Testaverde and Eric Zeier. He never played except for some preseason games. He only lasted one year, but he made it.

It’s no surprise that the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee nominated Otis in their fourth class, but it still surprises the former Blue Knight.

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