Defensive tackle Scott Pagano is a U.S Army All-American. He's the top player in Hawaii. He's the owner of a rock-solid commitment to Clemson and the recipient of a full-ride college scholarship. But, somehow, on the day when he accepted his Army Bowl jersey, he was stuck talking about the one thing from the past year that didn't quite sit right with him.
It was a mostly underwhelming performance against other top-level recruits at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta this summer.
The lull could have, at least partially, been caused by a spur-of-the-moment flight from Hawaii that got him to the camp with little time to rest or adjust to the six-hour time difference. Whatever the case, it's the one negative branch in what has been a forest of success for the Honolulu Moanalua High School senior. It's also a branch he'd like to trim.
So the jersey he held in front of him on Monday evening represented a reward and a challenge.
Teammates, family, friends and coaches watched the jersey presentation from the stands of his high school gymnasium. Pagano smiled, said a word or two about the honor and began to talk about the task at hand.
"Watching players like Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd and Tim Tebow on TV, now I have the chance to play in the same bowl game as they did," he said. "It's a really cool and unique honor."
That spiel represents the politically correct talking point. It also represents boring. Even if Pagano was reserved about it, his real feelings about the chance to get another crack at competing with the best high school prospects in America were obvious.
Make no mistake, this opportunity isn't about Tim Tebow. It's not about Sammy Watkins, either. It's about redemption. Pagano refused to tackle the issue head-on, but reading his focus didn't require much strain. No excuses. Just a man focused on atonement.
"I'm not going to go into details, but I'm training and working hard," he said. "I'll be ready to go. I know I flew out to (the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge) at the last minute. But that was my choice.
When pressed, Pagano only grew more determined. He restated that he didn't want to go into detail on the matter but made a proclamation nonetheless. The player who looked tired and almost uninterested in Atlanta? Don't expect to see him on the field in San Antonio.
"It's going to be a different outcome this time," Pagano said. "That's all I can say."
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