Catching Up with… Justin Scott-Wesley

Hailing from Camilla in South Georgia, Justin Scott-Wesley was a standout receiver and defensive back on the gridiron while being “the state’s fastest man” on the track for Mitchell County. A two-sport athlete at Georgia, Scott-Wesley got off to an extraordinary start to the 2013 season. Leading the team in receiving through the first four games of the year, he caught the game-winning touchdown against sixth-ranked LSU after being on the receiving end of the game-clinching score versus No. 6 South Carolina just a few weeks before. However, in the season’s fifth game, Scott-Wesley suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Scott-Wesley’s football career was never the same. Regardless, the lessons he learned while dealing with adversity at Georgia molded him into the man, husband, and father he is today. UGASports caught up with Scott-Wesley from his home in the Atlanta area.

UGASports: Justin, before we get into why you decided to attend and play football at UGA out of high school, we were reminded that as a recruit in 2010, you were distinguished as “the state’s fastest man.” How was it determined that you were the state’s fastest man?

Scott-Wesley: “I didn’t start running track in high school until I was a sophomore. But that year, I won the 200-meter dash for the 2-A classification [at the GHSA track and field state championships] and I came in second in the 100-meter behind my teammate [Kyran Stewart] who was a senior at that time. Besides the 100 and 200, I also ran the 4×100 [meters] relay and the 4×400 relay. But the 100 was my thing. To be honest, as a junior in high school, there was no high schooler in the state in all classifications who was as fast as me in the 100. And the 100 is considered the fastest event on the track. I broke the state record for Class 2-A with an official time of 10.35 (Scott-Wesley’s unofficial time was 10.21). That’s around the time I was recognized as the fastest man in the state of Georgia. Eventually, I wound up coming in third in the 100 at the Junior Nationals. But, in the end, I wound up accepting a football scholarship over training for the Olympics.”

UGASports: Speaking of football, when did you realize you had the skills to play that sport as well?

Scott-Wesley: “Now, that took some time (laughing). Growing up, I was never the best athlete on my football team, never one of those pee-wee football superstars you hear about. I really didn’t start developing when it came to football until a couple of years into high school. At Mitchell County, I had some really good coaches who inspired me while giving me the foundation of being a versatile athlete, running with proper mechanics, and things like that. So once I combined that foundation with, I guess, my natural ability, I just looked up one day and saw that I was being recruited to play major college football, as well. I guess that’s when I realized besides running track at a high level, I could also play football at a high level.”

UGASports: Why did you decide to attend Georgia?

Scott-Wesley: “I first started following Georgia when I went there and saw a game, when A.J. Green, [Matthew] Stafford, and [Knowshon] Moreno played there. Then I started to be recruited by Georgia. Besides Coach Richt, Coach [Mike] Bobo (offensive coordinator at the time) played a big part in my recruiting. You know, he’s from Thomasville, Georgia, which is only a skip and a hop from where I’m from. I really had a good connection with him. Then, once I met Coach Richt and, really, once my grandmother met Coach Richt, it was like, wow. From there, my relationship with Georgia was kind of solidified. Also, Georgia was the first school to offer me a scholarship, so I felt like UGA blessed me with an opportunity. Finally, I’m a Georgia boy at heart, and I’ve always wanted to represent my state. So, picking UGA was an easy choice for me.”

UGASports: Just out of interest, did Kirby Smart [Alabama’s defensive coordinator at the time] try to recruit you at all?

Scott-Wesley: “He did. Coach Smart tried to recruit me to play safety for Alabama.”

UGASports: When you were participating in both football and track at Georgia, how were you able to juggle the two sports?

Scott-Wesley: “I would participate in the indoor [track] season, which goes from January to March, until spring football came around. I’d stop indoor track, go through spring football, and, once that was over, I’d go right back to track, which was in its outdoor season. I did okay juggling the two sports. For me, running track came naturally, and playing football eventually would as well. Also, your coaches need to be able to trust the athlete—and trust the environment surrounding [the athlete]—that he’ll be able to play two sports. I earned that trust from my coaches.” (Scott-Wesley still holds one of the top UGA times in history for the 60 meters, twice running a 6.75.)

“I’m very appreciative for the moments associating me with the school and the football program, and don’t take anything for granted involving my time at UGA regardless of how my football career turned out. I bleed Red and Black.”

— Justin Scott-Wesley

UGASports: When you arrived at UGA for fall camp of 2011, you were considered a true freshman who could play immediately. However, you were redshirted. What happened?

Scott-Wesley: “Part of it was me getting acclimated to major college football. When I was at Mitchell County, we were only a 2-A, then a 1-A school. Once I got to Georgia, I needed some time to get used to the competition gap. But, most of all, and if I’m being honest, I came to Georgia overweight. Therefore, I had an issue with running routes and being a dependable receiver in the passing game—and it mostly had to do with the fact that I needed to cut weight.”

UGASports: Still, you quickly became a viable wide receiver for Georgia. Was there a moment early on when you realized you could compete as a wideout at a high, SEC-like level?

Scott-Wesley: “For me, more than a moment, it was a slow process to get where I realized I could compete with the best of them. Every day in practice during my first year, I had to go up against Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith. And to be a true freshman and have to go up against cornerbacks like them day after day, it really helped my development. Eventually, and it definitely took some time, but I started to beat those guys on occasion during some drills. I considered those two guys amongst the best cornerbacks in the conference. And I soon realized that if I could beat some of the best in practice, some opposing cornerbacks would have little chance with me. Since I spent two years on the scout team going up against those corners, everything else came kind of easy for me once I got into the rotation.”

UGASports: As a redshirt freshman in 2012, you saw some playing time (six catches for 135 yards and a touchdown). The following season, and although Georgia was rather deep at wide receiver in 2013 (Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Rantavious Wooten, Rhett McGowan, Reggie Davis, among others), you were the team’s leading receiver entering the fifth game of that season. How did you suddenly emerge from being in the receiver rotation at Georgia to being a standout wideout?

Scott-Wesley: “I really credit my work ethic. I didn’t accept the fact that I was a guy at the bottom of the depth chart. Therefore, I just came in every day, worked my tail off, and was able to make the plays meant for me to make. I think I surprised some people when I came up the depth chart. There was this time—I believe it was the summer camp entering the 2013 season—when Coach Richt pulled me to the side one day when I was walking to lunch. He was like, ‘Are you ready, son?’ I replied, ‘What do you mean, Coach?’ He answered, ‘Are you ready to contribute to this team?’ Coach Richt then added that I had come a long way, and I had done some good things, but he thought I could do great things. Maybe above all, that short conversation with Coach Richt really helped boost my confidence. Anytime a head coach says he believes in you, and tells it to your face, it’s a really big deal. At the time, I was being very consistent on the field, but I needed something to kind of give me a boost to get over the hump and really make my mark. That boost came from the confidence Coach Richt had in me.”

UGASports: You entered the 2013 Tennessee game leading the team in receiving. Although the Dawgs would win in Knoxville, 34-31 in overtime, the team suffered a few key injuries, including you having a season-ending knee injury. What do you recall from that game?

Scott-Wesley: “It was a bizarre game to say the least. With several key guys already out to injury, like Todd [Gurley], we lose [tailback] Keith Marshall to a knee injury. Also to a knee injury, we lost Michael Bennett (who was second behind Scott-Wesley in receiving). As for me, I was on punt return, and the Tennessee player called fair catch… I tried to plant my foot to get out of his way. I didn’t want to get the penalty. When I planted, the grass just kind of gave and my knee went with it, tearing my ACL. It was like all my football injuries at Georgia, a non-contact injury.”

UGASports: Speaking of, do you mind walking us through your injuries, and discussing the impact they had on you trying to return to the field?

Scott-Wesley: “After tearing my ACL, I suffered a high ankle sprain entering the 2014 season. I was out for about six weeks. When I returned (six games into the season), I was still dealing with the knee, plus, the skin between my thumb and index finger on my right hand remained busted all year. Because of that, I had a hard time catching the ball, as well. We also had a new quarterback (Hutson Mason from Aaron Murray) and the offense had changed some. So, it was because of several factors, I had a hard time working my way back into the rotation. It was just very hard for me to find my stride with the offense. That summer, I had arthroscopic knee surgery and returned in time for fall camp. But a couple of weeks in, I tore my meniscus during practice. I was just running a run-of-the-mill route against air in practice and, before I knew it, I had hurt my knee again, and I’m later laying hurt on the same MRI table that I had been on before. It was my third knee injury in three years.”

UGASports: What did that—enduring all those injuries and missing all that playing time—do to you mentally?

Scott-Wesley: “Man, mentally, it really got to me. My thing was that I wasn’t going to quit on my team, even with the injuries. However, with the third injury, it just got to a point where I was physically unable to perform. I felt like I had to make the best decision for my personal health. When a doctor tells you, like one informed me, that you’ll need knee replacement surgery by the time you’re 40 years old, that’ll sit you down, make you think long term. I decided I couldn’t go through all that again and stopped playing football just before the start of the [2015] season.”

UGASports: Immediately after playing at Georgia, you got into a variety of things, including working as an audio engineer in nearby Watkinsville and in real estate out in California. But you eventually got into coaching?

Scott-Wesley: “Yes. I moved back down to South Georgia in 2018 and took a coaching job at Pelham High School under Dondrial Pinkins, who had been my head coach at Mitchell County. (Pinkins, who three times faced Georgia as South Carolina’s quarterback from 2000-2004, has since returned to Mitchell County as head coach.) For both seasons I was at Pelham (2018 and 2019), we reached the 1-A state semifinals. In 2020, I began coaching at River Ridge High School in Cherokee County, and I was there for two seasons. I really enjoyed my time coaching. When I was at Pelham, Coach Pinkins had already laid a solid foundation and they were consistently winning. As receivers coach, I stepped into an offense that was already high-powered. But I was still able to take some guys who had never really played the receiver position and coach them up to be major contributors for our team.”

UGASports: So, what do you do now? And tell us about your family.

Scott-Wesley: “I work at a wealth management firm in Sandy Springs. I handle accounting and bookkeeping and have an advisory role. My wife attended Georgia the same time I was there. We have two boys: Titan, who is four years old, and Romeo, who is nearing a year old.”

UGASports: What did you learn from your time at Georgia?

Scott-Wesley: “As I went through UGA, I developed as a man, which taught me how to deal with adversity and how to deal with some of the politics that come along with life in general. I’m grateful for my athletic career at Georgia, even though it was shortened and wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. Still, it amazes me how a few games can change the trajectory of my life. Even when I lived out in California, I would be recognized by Georgia fans. Like, I remember once posing for a photo with Georgia fans at a Costco parking lot in San Diego. I’m very appreciative of the moments associating me with the school and the football program, and don’t take anything for granted involving my time at UGA regardless of how my football career turned out. I bleed Red and Black.”


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