Garrett Scantling decided before his freshman year at Georgia to honor his track and field scholarship and focus solely on the decathlon.
Now five years out of football, Scantling has shelved his decathlon career for a chance to make the Atlanta Falcons’ 53-man roster.
Quite a turnaround for a 23-year-old who came in fourth at Olympic qualifying last year and had to watch the Rio Games from home.
“Doing the decathlon, it was the mindset that was literally the main thing that I brought over here,” Scantling said Saturday at rookie mini-camp. “You have to turn that page. You have to approach one event at a time. Just like here. You’ve got to lock in one play and when that one’s done you have to lock in on the next one.”
Scantling is one of two track standouts currently trying to make it in the NFL. Cyril Grayson, a four-time NCAA track champion at LSU, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, but at least Grayson was able to get a spot at LSU’s pro day.
Scantling made his way to the Falcons through an even smaller door. Unable to work out at Georgia’s pro day, Scantling was already training full-time in Atlanta after graduating last year with a degree in financial planning.
A family friend put him in touch with agent Joby Branion, who had one of his assistants work out Scantling. From there, a feeler went out to the Falcons, and Scantling was offered a private workout at team headquarters in March.
The Falcons offered a minimum contract two weeks later. The only other workout he had was at Jacksonville University’s pro day in April.
“I was actually at a decathlon in Athens working as an announcer when they called,” he said. “I came straight here and signed. It was a dream come true for sure.”
Scantling hasn’t played in a football game since his senior year at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, where he caught 66 passes for 13 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards in his last season.
He thought about trying out for Georgia’s football team, and Bulldogs track and field coach Petros Kyprianou didn’t object. Kyprianou had signed Scantling because of his athleticism and told him to do what he pleased.
“Coach Kyprianou was there for me, and I wanted to be there for him,” Scantling said. “He gave me a shot from day one when I stepped on campus. Doing the decathlon, you have to train all year for that. He was my No. 1 supporter.”
Scantling, a two-time All-American and a three-time All-SEC selection at Georgia, is nothing special with the Falcons. He’s one of 87 players on the current expanded roster and 13 receivers.
All-Pro Julio Jones and veterans Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy already have spots secure, so that means only two of 10 receivers will make the final cut.
“Our first exposure to him was at our local tryout,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That was where we found out how well he could run. Obviously it’s documented for track guys, but for a guy who’s over 220 pounds with that kind of speed, it catches your eye.”
Scantling has approached his return to football with the mind of — what else — a decathlete.
“Doing a decathlon, you have 10 events, so if you start off with one bad event, that can ruin your whole day,” he said. “One thing I was pretty good at was turning the page. If you have dropped ball or a missed block, you’ve got to forget about that or else the next play is going to be bad, so that’s why I think I’ve brought here and why I’m mentally strong in that aspect.”
Missing the Olympic team, due largely to disappointing finish in the discus, was tough to overcome emotionally, but Scantling looks considers his shortcoming at the trials as a learning experience.
If he doesn’t make the Falcons, Scantling plans to try out for the 2020 Olympic team.
“I tell you that was one thing I was nervous about,” he said. “Coming in, it’s different studying it on paper. Once you get out here, they’ll call it and you’ve got to get there. That’s one thing I was proud of myself for doing was transitioning from the paper to the field. I think that’s one of the toughest parts of the game.”