Sam Scofield stands tall for Tulane

In his rare down time during Tulane’s grueling preseason camp, safety Sam Scofield has been able to relive his first seminal athletic achievement.

Long before he became the Green Wave’s heady, steady, underrated tackling machine, Scofield played in the 2005 Little League World Series. With the 2014 championship game set for Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. on ABC, the lead-ups have turned into appointment TV.

“This year I’ve watched it the most since I’ve played,” Scofield said Friday. “I don’t know why. I watched it last night, and I watched it the night before. I can’t really tell if it’s just nothing on TV or I’m actually interested, but I’ve honestly watched almost every night. It brings back memories.”

They are very good memories, even if Scofield, who led the nation’s No. 22-ranked defense with 104 tackles as a junior, appears loathe to talk about them at first. When he was 12, his Lafayette team qualified for the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, advancing to the U.S. semifinals before being eliminated by Hawaii.

Only one Louisiana team — South Lake Charles in 2008 — has gone further this century. Scofield, a center fielder and pitcher, played a huge rule in Lafayette’s success.

In the opener, his RBI single in the bottom of the sixth (and final) inning sparked a three-run rally as Lafayette beat Westbrook, Maine 3-2.

In the next game, Lafayette fell behind 7-1 to Owensboro, Kent, but Scofield pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief while allowing one unearned run as his team rallied to win 9-8.

The dramatics ended there. With Scofield unavailable to start the third round-robin game as planned, Lafayette lost 9-3 to Vista, California, and fell 2-0 to eventual Little League champion Hawaii in the U.S. semifinals.

Still, Scofield left South Williamsport with a 1-0 record on the mound while going 5-for-12 at the plate.

The event continues to grow, achieving record ratings for the preliminaries this year thanks to Sports Illustrated cover sensation Mo’ne Davis, a 13-year old girl who pitched a shutout for Philadelphia in its opening victory.

Scofield knew exactly how Davis and her teammates felt when they were eliminated Thursday with their second straight loss after starting 2-0. He had been there and done that.

“Last night, when a team was eliminated, they were all crying,” he said. “Some of my roommates were saying, ‘Oh, little babies.’ I was telling them it’s OK to cry. I think I probably did at the time we lost.”

It is hard to imagine him crying now. Off the field, Scofield is the personification of calmness, always appearing relaxed. If you’re looking for a high-strung act, choose someone else.

“He just carries himself in a low-profile way,” secondary coach Jason Rollins said. “He’s 6-2, 192, but he’s not very flamboyant and blends in real well.”

Well, at least until the game starts, at which point he usually becomes very noticeable. Tulsa, Tulane’s season-opening opponent this Thursday, certainly will have him near the top of its scouting report. Last year, he made a career-high 18 tackles against the Golden Hurricane, including a forced fumble in the fourth quarter that helped the Wave preserve a 14-7 victory and become bowl eligible for the first time in 11 years.

Several of his stops prevented long gains.

“They scored seven points, but he was responsible for keeping 21 other points off the board,” Rollins said. “He knows all the angles to take and is a very sure tackler. Hopefully he doesn’t have to make that many this year.”

Scofield’s secret is part anticipation and part execution. An honor student whose smarts extend to the field, he stays a step ahead of the offense and almost always finishes what he starts.

“He knows what to do probably better than anybody in this building, but what I like about him is he’s one of the sure tacklers and he’s always where he should be,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “He’s one good tackler.”

Scofield’s tackling technique is simple. While others go for highlight hits that make SportsCenter, he focuses on bringing guys to the ground.

The few mistakes he made last season came early in games. Tulane’s normally sturdy defense gave up 31 first-half points to South Alabama and two first-quarter touchdowns against Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.

“I don’t try to hit people up high,” he said. “I get his legs and get him down. Last year my missed tackles would all come the first couple of drives. This year I’m really working on getting ready for games and making sure I get a sweat going in warm-ups.”

The rest of the game appears to come easily for him. With fellow starting safety Darion Monroe also one of the smartest players on the team, co-defensive coordinator Lionel Washington gives both of them plenty of latitude.

“If we don’t like a blitz, we are going to check out of it, or if we have a blitz where Darion’s blitzing, I might tell him, ‘Hey, you cover this play, let me go,’” Scofield said. “We have free reign honestly. As long as everybody on the field knows what we’re doing, then it’s no problem.”

That trust is particularly high between Scofield and Rollins, the lone holdover from the Bob Toledo staff that recruited him out of St. Thomas More.

Scofield labels Rollins the best coach he’s ever had, a father figure off the field and a mentor on it. Rollins returns the favor, recognizing Scofield as much more than the cliché of a hard-working overachiever. He says Scofield could hit to the golf course tomorrow and shoot under par (actual best score: a 79 this past summer). Harkening back to those Little League exploits, he says Scofield would be one of the best players on the Tulane baseball team if he had stuck with his childhood sport.

“Sam is one of my all-time favorite players to coach,” Rollins said. “He sees the game from a coach’s perspective and also from a player’s perspective. He not only knows his position, but every other position on the field and offense as well as defense.

“But saying he’s smart is not doing justice to how great of an athlete he really is. He has one of the best 10-yard shuttles on our team, he has excellent ball skills, he has excellent change of direction and he’s very flexible.”