PHOENIX — I have spent the past 10 minutes trying to convince myself that the man standing before me is a running back. It simply cannot be. Linebacker? Sure. Defensive end? Why not. But running back? Not a chance.
His shoulders are bursting out of the sleeves of his jersey like two spaceships waiting to blast off into orbit. His arms are a sight to behold even when completely at ease. In fact, his entire body is constructed of granite and full of fury. His hands are the size of catchers’ mitts.
Standing among his Alabama teammates—a congregation of some of the most physically gifted human beings on the planet—he still manages to stand out. He is the one you can't help but notice first. He is a superman among men.
He stands 6’2” and weighs 240 pounds—his ideal playing body. He has a bench press of 475 pounds and a squat of 540 pounds. He was recently clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has clocked sub-4.4 40s in the past.
He is not Derrick Henry. He is Bo Scarbrough, the future of Alabama football.
Right now, however, no one seems to care. Days before the national championship, the media is far more interested in peppering Nick Saban with questions about his legacy and “the process.” They want to hear what Jake Coker has in store for an encore. They want to speak with Henry before his final collegiate game.
The world doesn't know this Bo. Not yet, at least.
Henry has him beat with the ruler, standing a good inch taller than the man who will eventually replace him. In terms of thickness, Scarbrough bests the Heisman winner. He is put together unlike anyone the sport has seen in some time. Maybe ever.
I asked each player who weighed more. They both simply smiled and laughed it off. Truth is, it probably changes weekly.
“I told everybody that he’s kind of like Adrian Peterson,” IMG Academy (Florida) assistant coach Adam Behrends told Bleacher Report. Behrends worked with Scarbrough his senior year of high school. “Kids like this only come around once every 10 years. I haven’t really been around anybody like Bo.”
Scarbrough is the essence of Alabama’s unrelenting run of dominance—a prodigy in a long line of prodigies who has to wait his turn. In all likelihood, he will not play a single down Monday night.
This year, Scarbrough carried the ball 18 times. Those 18 carries—10 of which came in a single game—have already turned him into a cult hero in Tuscaloosa.
The instant Henry and his Heisman bolt to the NFL, Scarbrough will become a fixture. For now, for one more night, he will serve as Alabama’s mop-up man. When the game has been decided and the starters are removed for the day, Scarbrough goes to work.
By the time he was inserted into the Cotton Bowl, Alabama fans were booking plane tickets and hotel rooms with their iPhones in the stands. They had checked out, and the next game was coming into focus. Still, when Scarbrough emerged from the sideline in the final minutes, his presence set off murmurs in the crowd. He gave the blowout life.
True to his folklore, Scarbrough unleashed a preview of the years to come. The measurables were put to use in a single moment. When they were, Tide fans and the Alabama sideline erupted.
“He's done a very nice job,” Saban said. “He had to overcome adversity after being injured in the spring where he was having a very good effective spring practice, so it's taken him a while to come back physically. But I think he's gotten more and more confident.”
This has not come out of nowhere. Scarbrough was 247Sports' No. 2 athlete and the No. 16 overall player in the 2014 class. When he committed to Alabama, Saban knew precisely what kind of player he was getting.
Even at the prestigious IMG Academy—a place that cycles through 5-star players every year—Scarbrough was looked at differently. The coaches had not seen anyone quite like him.
“Once you see him in a cutoff on the field, you think he’s going to be good because he’s just bigger than everybody,” Behrends said. “He’s not just one of those guys who’s really good because he’s bigger and faster than everybody. He was better than everybody because he was just better than everything.”
In the red zone, Scarbrough would convert into the team’s go-to receiver. When he did, the team would often call “Him” routes.
The route was exactly what the name implies. There was no progression. There was no need to read defense. Because Scarbrough was bigger and could leap higher than anyone else, the concept was simple: Throw it up to Bo, and throw it high. Let him go up in the air and grab it.
“I’d say it worked 90 percent of the time,” Behrends said.
On the ground, Scarbrough ran for 1,420 yards and 19 touchdowns in only nine games—missing two due to injury. He averaged nearly 11 yards per carry. He also averaged more than 14 yards per reception.
When there was no opening to run through, he would still find one. In the film room, the coaches would marvel at how a back with such size would maneuver through such tight openings.
In the open field, the staff would watch Scarbrough outrun players he outweighed by more than 50 pounds.
“He has such long strides,” Behrends said. “He’s just got veins bursting in his legs, calves and knees. When he ran, it looked like a racehorse going around the track.”
When Scarbrough arrived on campus, he had a flurry of setbacks in his first 18 months.
Due to academic issues, Scarbrough didn’t enroll at Alabama until the spring semester of 2015, missing the entirety of what would have been his freshman season. When he finally joined the team during the spring of 2015, he promptly tore his ACL. He was then suspended for four games in August because of an NCAA matter.
“In high school, you’re the guy,” Scarbrough said. “But once you get to college, everybody is the same. You can’t question anybody but yourself about how to get better. I think the waiting has really made me grow mentally.”
Scarbrough only saw action in four games this season, debuting against Georgia in early October. The combined final score of the four games he played was 163-22.
When Alabama decided it had buried an opponent deep enough, Scarbrough would then be given a chance. One can’t help but appreciate just how much of a rich man’s problem Alabama has on its hands.
Fully aware of the routine, Behrends would watch games—even the grandest of blowouts—until the conclusion. If a game turned sideways early, he knew his former player had a better chance of getting in. He rooted for routs.
Scarbrough, fully aware of his current status, has welcomed a role that would frustrate most.
“I’m going to do everything I am supposed to do,” Scarbrough said. “Most athletes with 15 seconds left don’t want to get in the game. I do. I’m going to take advantage of every chance that I get.”
If it were another university—perhaps any other program, really—things would be different. Bo would be starting and starring. Talents of his caliber aren’t often tucked away and stored for later.
But Alabama is a different kind of brute. Even the rarest of freak shows have to pay their dues.
This year’s Heisman winner knows this more than anyone. Henry waited until his junior year before assuming the role of the team’s primary back. The similarities between the two extend well beyond their physical makeup.
“He’s come back from injury, worked hard and gotten better,” Henry said of Scarbrough. “As the season has progressed, he’s improved each and every week.”
It’s simply a matter of time. The mystique that follows Scarbrough will morph into something more—something tangible and real. Until then, perhaps on Monday night the score will turn lopsided enough for Saban to call for a 5-star mop-up in the closing moments.
If he does, listen for the roar.
Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.