Six months ago Nik Scalzo’s football future was dramatically altered…or so we thought.
Playing in the 5A Florida regional semifinals, Scalzo suffered a torn ACL in his left knee after catching a pass on a trick play. An injury that could sideline some for up to a year, Scalzo went back into the game and led his team to a game-winning touchdown drive. Cardinal Gibbons High School went on to win the school’s first state championship.
Even though he fought through the injury for a series, many UK fans feared Scalzo would not be prepared to participate in practice at the University of Kentucky this fall. After a grueling rehab schedule, Scalzo is playing playing fullcourt basketball and doing backflips in his spare time.
My goal was to be able to backflip before I leave for college? finally hit one? pic.twitter.com/H7gnAdQ2zQ
— Nik Scalzo (@NikScalzo) May 29, 2019
Cleared to participate in all team activities when he reports to campus June 15, Scalzo spoke to KSR about the devastating injury, the rehabilitation process and more, including his upcoming appearance on the Netflix documentary QB1.
KSR: What was going through your head when you took that hit in the playoffs?
Scalzo: Really the only thing was — when I got hit we were up by a couple points — and the only thing I thought about in that game was just winning. After the backup came in and threw a pick six, I went back in. We drove down the field and we scored on that drive and they took me back out. Just the idea of winning that game basically.
KSR: Did anyone tell you not to go back into the game?
Scalzo: Yeah, everyone (laughs). My whole training staff and my coach too, but I told em, ‘I’m gonna go play.’
KSR: Was it a ton of pain? I can’t even imagine playing through that.
Scalzo: Yeah, you couldn’t really put pressure on it, so I relied on my left leg a lot. When I was throwing the ball, I was using my arm, only arm.
KSR: You got that win and Cardinal Gibbons ended up winning state. What was it like watching them go through all of that from the sideline?
Scalzo: It was definitely humbling, just because I was not there and that was our plan was to win state my senior year. I had to stay as positive as I could. I tried to talk to and coach the backup quarterback at the time. I was like, ‘This is your team now. Next year it’s going to be yours. Might as well take it over now.’ I told him he needed to get his mind right. And honestly, I enjoyed it because I got to watch the team from the sidelines a little bit, as much as I’d love to be playing. It humbled me, I could say that.
KSR: What has your recovery process been like over the last six months?
Scalzo: I hurt myself and then I did a week pre-hab. Then I got the surgery. For therapy, I had it everyday. At month four I changed therapy places and there I do PT three days a week now, and I do personal training for five days. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday I’ll have PT at 4:30, then train from 5:00-8:00, so it’s looooong days, everyday.
KSR: Has it been more difficult than you thought it would be? Did you think you could get back to 100%?
Scalzo: I knew I was going to be back at a certain time. I didn’t think it as that hard. It was just the point of managing my time. It took a lot of my free time up.
KSR: I’m sure. That’s basically your entire afternoon.
Scalzo: Yeah, I went to LA Fitness today to play full court basketball. We played like five games.
KSR: So you’re 100% good to go, nothing wrong anymore, right?
Scalzo: The only time I can ever feel anything is when I’m stopping. I can make all my cuts and turns already. It’s just when I’m slowing down.
KSR: I saw you finally got a backflip in, what was it like to make that first leap?
Scalzo: The week before I was about to do it, but I was like, ‘naw, I gotta wait a little longer.’ Then I knew I had to do it. It was one of my biggest goals before I left because I used to do it all the time. I hadn’t done one in seven months and it looked pretty clean to me for my first one.
KSR: I know you’ve been focused on getting your knee right, but have the coaches been in contact with you at all for what to expect before going up to Lexington?
Scalzo: Yeah, I’ve been talking to the assistant quarterback coach about doing install stuff and learning the playbook before I get there.
KSR: We heard you’ll be on the next QB1. When does that come out and what was that experience like?
Scalzo: It’ll come out end of August, early September. When I went to the Elite 11 ( regional camp) and I didn’t get that (make it to nationals) I was really pissed. Then out of nowhere, they called my Dad. They said, ‘We have ten kids we have picked from and we want to do a one day mini-series on all of them and pick which ones we like. When they did our mini-series, we had a jamboree in Key West. We went fishing and stuff, then two weeks later they called me and let me know we were one of three who got it.
We literally filmed all the time after that. It was constantly being mic’d up, so I had to watch everything I said. It was actually kind of good because it made me think before I spoke.
KSR: Where they there throughout the entire season? Were you mic’d up for practice and games?
Scalzo: I was mic’d up in probably a majority of the games. All of the big-time games I was mic’d up. They also made me during practice periods, when we just went around and did stuff with my friends, prom, homecoming.
KSR: That’d be wild to have on all the time. What do you think fans are going to like most when they finally get to watch it?
Scalzo: I don’t really know. Maybe my drive, my passion for the game and how I’m kind of cocky, but really more confident, I like to think. But really, just my personality.
KSR: Well, I hear the cocky stuff a lot and that can sometimes have a negative connotations. I think it could easily be cleared up if you get to know somebody just a little bit.
Scalzo: I think that when the show comes out, I think it’ll be good for me. It’s good for some people and it’s bad for others. I actually think it’s a good thing that I did the show.
KSR: Over the last six months people have been going crazy over other quarterbacks — Beau Allen commits, Sawyer Smith transfers — what’s it like seeing that from afar when those guys play your position?
Scalzo: I don’t care honestly. I like competition. They can bring on anyone they want.
KSR: That’s one way to put it. When are you moving up to Lexington?
Scalzo: June 15 is my move-in day. I’m pretty sure I start classes like a week after.
KSR: Is there anything you want to get accomplished in that time frame before practice gets started and it’s full-go?
Scalzo: Really just knowing the playbook more. I want to know it 100% before going in just so I have that aspect of the game done. But also, I’m trying to gain a little more weight before I get up there; get a little stronger and get a little quicker.