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Clemson’s Artavis Scott Almost Lost it All and Learned There’s More to Life Than Football

Students like Artavis are the reason NewSpring is opening its Clemson campus this fall


Artavis "Tay" Scott bursts off his mark, gets open, and bolts down the sideline.

In a flash, 20, 30, 40 yards later, the Clemson wide receiver turns around just in time to catch a deep ball in the end zone in this year’s ACC Championship game against North Carolina.

The touchdown celebration that follows is one Clemson fans have seen more than a dozen times in two seasons.

But it’s worth a second look.

Rewind the tape so Tay's hands are no longer pointing to the heavens, but still holding the ball.

Wind it back further, before the end zone scamper, before you can see his outstretched fingers clasp the seam of the pigskin.

Stop the tape just as he swivels his body at the end of the long sideline run.

Right there. If you’re looking for it, you can see it in Tay's eyes: Calmness.

It’s as if Tay knows the outcome before he even makes the explosive play.

Chalk that up to a new maturity that’s caught the attention of players and coaches alike.

"With football, it’s helped me a lot,” he says, about the change in his life. "[I’m] seeing more things and being relaxed when I'm on the field."

For the Love of the Game

Artavis has always loved the game, since age 7, when his mom got him started in Little League in his hometown of Tarpon Springs, Fla.

And if Tay is not playing on the field, he's playing NCAA Football on the PlayStation with his friends in the apartment he shares with Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson.

“I just wanted to play. When I was younger it was, ‘Football! football! football!’ I just can't wait,” he says, switching to present tense to signal he’s ready to play right now. "... That's what I wanted to do."

Some instances, I'm arguing with the coach and arguing with the players, not being a team player — who I was — because my anger would be so bad.

At East Lake High School and in back-to-back years at Clemson, Tay has posted impressive numbers, the type of numbers that earn you the right to dream about the NFL.

The thought has crossed his mind, obviously, he says. But pro ball wasn’t what you would call a plan — as if there’s a way to draw that up and make it happen.

A professional career is solely the outcome of talent, hard work and the right attitude.

"If you want to be where you want to be, don't give up,” he says. “ … You have to keep pushing through whatever it is that's trying to stop you; that's in your way."

At the end of Clemson’s unbeaten season, two games from winning the College Football National Championship, Tay’s goal is to be a complete player, and a leader on and off the field.

And to enjoy it.

That confidence? That looseness? That’s something new.

"When I face that adversity I know everything is going to be all right,” Tay says when he’s asked to explain his new spiritual attitude. "I'm not in control of what I do."

It’s like Tay knows how the story is going to end.

A Big Brother

Passion and intensity can have an ugly side. For Tay, that was anger.

“Sometimes my play wouldn’t line up to who I really was because I would get so mad and frustrated, and I couldn't get myself back together. I couldn’t play my game,” he says. "Some instances, I'm arguing with the coach and arguing with the players, not being a team player — who I was — because my anger would be so bad."

It’s as if Tay's attitude and playmaking just needed to catch up with the future version of himself — the Tay he was destined to be.

When you rewind the tape on Tay’s life, there’s more than one turning point when it could have gone another way.

There’s the moment Tay came out of middle school and struck up a friendship with East Lake’s quarterback Pete DiNovo, now a starter at the University of Central Florida.

When the two played NCAA together, Tay always chose Clemson orange because he liked the color. But Pete always told Tay he’d end up playing for Clemson one day. It's crazy to think about, he says.

When I'm in the game and things aren't going my way, I just know to lean on [Jesus] through some stuff that I don't think I can get myself through.

The man he calls his big brother was there for him when Tay was being a hard-headed, normal kid who wanted to get with the girls and stay out all night.

"I mean that's the things I saw and kind of wanted to do, but there was always something telling me that ain't what you are supposed to do,” he says.

The more he and Pete trained together, the more Tay kept away from the negative things and started being driven and focused.

"He taught me like, 'Tay, man, this is what we need to do. We need to handle our business here and not focus on that stuff.' But me, I'm kind of like, ‘Oh yeah man, but we can still do that. I want to try this stuff, too.’ … Getting the success in football and knowing I had a chance to go to college and do the things I can, I think that's the biggest thing that helped me."

A Fork In The Road

Then there’s the fateful night Pete’s influence didn’t prevail.

Tay was in the neighborhood with a friend when he got caught up in situation where stealing was involved. Tay ended up getting arrested, even though he wasn’t directly responsible for the theft.

"That adversity hit me hard. At that point in time I thought it was over for me ... I didn't think I was going to play football,” Tay says. “ I had never been in real trouble like that before, and that situation kind of like struck me: I got to really get dialed in to what I want to be, and not just saying it but living it."

Miraculously, the incident didn’t stymie recruiting interest from Clemson, Florida, FSU, Michigan, Ohio State, or Central Florida.

That threshold moment, when Tay saw his life hanging in the balance, came into sharp focus at Easter 2014.

I knew at that moment something had changed in me. I just felt like the weight is lifted off of me and [I'm] free of everything I used to think about before.

Jeff Scott, Clemson’s wide receivers coach, invited Tay to join him and his wife, Sara, at NewSpring Church, in Anderson, S.C. Tay came from a family that went to church, but he hadn’t visited any churches since moving to the area.

The message that day included a video story about Zac Smith, who died of cancer at the age of 32, leaving behind a wife and three kids.

Suddenly, Tay saw the parallel with his own life. He came away with a single question: When you’re hit with adversity, how are you going to respond?

In a flash of understanding, Tay saw that Jesus was the difference-maker in the Smiths’ lives.

So Tay decided to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins.

Jesus’ plan for your life is the only one that can never fail, he told himself.

"I was mindblown by it,” Tay says. "This is what you want to focus your eyes on. Let him take control of everything for you because you're not in control. I knew at that moment something had changed in me. I just felt like the weight is lifted off of me and [I'm] free of everything I used to think about before."


Jesus Wrote His Story

Since that decision, Tay says Jesus has been helping him every day to get through the job at hand and stay focused, especially this season when injuries have troubled him.

The change in Tay hasn’t gone unnoticed.

At the end of his freshman season, former Clemson offensive coach Chad Morris spoke about Tay’s ability to get better with adversity. So did Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, who noted his coachability in transitioning from an athlete with raw talent to a good team player.

"When I'm in the game and things aren't going my way, I just know to lean on [Jesus] through some stuff that I don't think I can get myself through. I just know that I can lean on him and just relax,” Tay says. "I think about things before I do things. I feel like I am so much more mature — and more like myself than anything."

It’s like Tay sees his story as already written — by Jesus.

In football terms: the pass is thrown; the touchdown caught. Tay is just running a route to catch up with that reality.

Sharing the Good News

Tay’s story of his personal transformation was so powerful that a Clemson student interviewing him for the college newspaper ended up having a personal conversation about NewSpring and about his decision to be baptized.

She decided to visit NewSpring and asked Jesus into her life months later.

The encounter was almost like a prophecy of his own future, where he’d get a chance to influence so many, not just with the story of his athletic success, but the story of his salvation.

I know I have that faith that Jesus has put me on earth for more than just football.

He foresees helping other people, especially black youth to see their destiny in Jesus. As if Tay could roll the tape forwards for them to see the fruit of a life well-lived.

Before Jesus, “you're like oblivious to everything you can actually see,” he says. "I would have been in the dark right now if I didn’t go to NewSpring that day and change my life. That is what I feel like Jesus has put on to my heart: to help other kids who aren't as fortunate and can’t really see their full potential ... that I can be that light for them to help them see it."

Jesus has shown Tay the future, and he’s good with it, regardless.

"[Jesus] gave to me the ability to do what I do. He gave me the light that I am here to do more than football. If [professional football] doesn’t work out, I'm going to be good,” Tay says. “I know I have that faith that Jesus has put me on earth for more than just football."

More Than Football

But right now, in the moment freeze-framed between a known past and the future God has planned for him, there’s only one question: Will this be Clemson’s year?

It’s a dream to be on the No. 1 team in the country, he says, his eyes lighting up.

Wait.

You’ve this look before, the one that comes right before lightning strikes — before the ball slices through the air. Before the ball glides right into his palms.

"I just want to finish this season off strong,” he says, hesitating for a split second. “... And we're just going to win it."

Millions of Clemson fans glued to the College Football Playoff will be praying along with him that that’s exactly how the story ends.

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