Staff Writer
COLLINGSWOOD — When news of Derrick Scott’s tragic death at the age of 31 spread through the South Jersey football community this week, it sparked a constant stream of support and understanding.
It all got directed to Collingswood, the tiny town where Scott played football as a high school student, where he’d helped establish the youth football program, where he’d driven kids to practice, where he’d finally gotten a varsity coaching spot on the Panthers’ sideline this year.
After a tumultuous week, Scott’s pupils took the field with their defensive backs and running backs coach on their minds. Saturday night brought a 35-0 loss to Haddonfield, a result that capped an emotional six-day span for this program and community.
Outside the locker room afterward, coach Mike McKeown shouldered the blame for a five-turnover performance and miscues that hurt his club. He also admitted the loss of his close friend had weighed heavily on he and the teenagers — many of whom grew up around Scott.
The 2005 grad of the school on West Collings Avenue had been instrumental in the youth program since its inception 11 years ago.
“It’s hard to try to get high school kids to bounce back when myself, I couldn’t bounce back,” McKeown said.
His face wore the expression of a grieving, exhausted man. With little left in the tank, he tipped his cap to the victorious foes.
On the other side, Haddons’ coach Frank DeLano spoke to the adjustment of the game to Saturday night — rather than previously-planned Friday — to accommodate the Panthers’ grief.
“… it’s about coach Scott and his family and we just respected anything they needed to do,” DeLano said. “If they needed to cancel this game, we understood. If they wanted to move it, we understood.
“We were here in that brotherhood in our football family of South Jersey football.”
That connection showed itself through countless messages McKeown received from all over the state. Those with memories of Scott and his jovial, friendly way shared them to bring consolation in a trying time.
“I’m thinking, ‘How do you even know this guy?’” McKeown said. “It means a lot to my kids, my coaches and myself.
“I never heard him say a negative thing about anyone. And he believed in building relationships with these kids.”
Senior Quarterback Quadir Fussell is one of those who shared a deep bond with Scott since childhood.
“He was a father figure to me,” Fussell said. “He always kept me level-headed and I could talk to him every time things weren’t going well… He would just always pick you up.
“He was always willing to push you and help you achieve your goals.”
Junior Quentin Moss echoed the sentiment.
“The impact he had on my life, he pushed me to be a better athlete and improve 100 percent of the time,” Moss, a receiver and defensive back, said before kickoff. “He made sure I did what I had to do in school.
“It was difficult the first two or three days, but we have to push through and play for him.”
Scott’s father, brother and two close friends were given a helmet and a football signed by the team at halftime. Colls’ program also had a memory book made for the family as well as a $2,500 check to help pay for funeral costs.
McKeown hopes to name an end-of-year team award for his friend. He also plans to give out an annual scholarship in Scott’s honor.
“We’ll never let his memory fade as long as I’m here,” McKeown said.
The game itself led off with Tommy Batson’s 85-yard kickoff return score. Haddonfield got two touchdown runs from Carson Wolff, an interception return by Jake Amons and a late Chris Clax plunge for six.
The Haddons’ opportunistic defense and second-half offensive execution proved the difference.
Still, even as time ticked down on the field that had “DSCOTT 21” on the Panthers’ signature “C” logo at midfield, the scoreboard felt distinctly secondary.
Colls had endured a week that many around high school athletics could empathize with. The Panthers had lost one of their own and held on as best they could. Given the circumstances, there isn’t much more anyone could ask of them.
Mark Trible is a former sports reporter for the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill and one of the most popular high school writers in South Jersey. Follow Mark: @Mtrible on Twitter;