SAN FRANCISCO — Some mornings, Tegray Scales can’t help but fool around.
He walks onto the field before Indiana begins practice and steals the megaphone coach Tom Allen uses to bark directions, making it his own personal address system for the bleary-eyed hours.
As his teammates emerge from the locker room he croons “Let’s go Hoosiers!” into the microphone. Other times, he presses a button that sends sirens wailing into the morning sky.
“He’s like a little kid,” Allen said.
While the rest of the Big Ten recognizes Scales as one of the league’s most productive linebackers, his teammates know him as one of the biggest characters in the locker room.
During a transformative, All-American season that’s placed Scales on the NFL Draft bubble, the junior has juggled the demanding expectations of his new coach with the ability to take charge behind the scenes and provide valuable levity for those around him.
“He’s an awesome guy and he’s really embraced the leadership role,” Allen said. “In the past, he just played. He’d show up and play. To me, that wasn’t enough. He needed to lead. I always talk about the linebackers and how they need to produce and they need to lead. He’s done both this year.”
No one in the Big Ten has more solo tackles (87) than Scales, who earned second team All-American honors from SI.com earlier this month. It could also be argued that, among his conference peers, few have earned as many laughs (countless).
“Tegray loves the spotlight,” receiver Ricky Jones said. “He loves the attention on him, whether it’s wrestling, making jokes, rapping or freestyling, or dancing. He’s a bad dancer — extremely bad dancer. Seeing him dance and stuff like that keeps everyone laughing and in great spirits.”
Like when Scales grabs the megaphone before practice.
Allen uses the megaphone to make sure every player can hear his orders and directions during walkthroughs. The new IU coach doesn’t want to say something that only a select few can hear, so if he says it, everyone needs to digest it.
As important as the megaphone is to Allen’s practice approach, it’s just as vital to Scales’ pre-practice comedy routine — something that appears both as good-natured ribbing and the kind of take-charge leadership Scales has spent the season cultivating.
“I’m just trying to motivate us because sometimes in the morning it can be a little dull or whatever, so I try to get on the mike, turn on the sirens and be positive,” Scales said. “It’s all about having fun. I think that can kind of escape our minds sometimes. I’m just trying to juice it up a little bit.”
That’s in line with what Allen demanded from Scales and his fellow linebackers prior to the season.
Linebacker is Allen’s position, too. It’s the one he played years ago, and it’s the one he has focused his coaching career on teaching.
So playing that position for him can be difficult.
There are very precise ways that Allen wants things done. If Scales, position-mate Marcus Oliver or any of their teammates don’t do it correctly, they will hear about it.
“I’m really hard on those guys,” Allen said. “In the coaching profession, they always say you don’t want to coach the position that that head coach used to coach or the coordinator used to coach. Coach (William) Inge gets the privilege of being the linebackers coach, which that’s my area.
“The players that play it, the same thing. I’m really hard on those guys. I’ve never had any great unit on defense that didn’t have great linebacker play. It’s an expectation.”
One where Scales has followed through.
He leads the team with 116 tackles and 20.5 tackles for loss. Midway through the year, Scales had posted a streak of six consecutive games with double-digit tackles — the longest streak nationally, the longest streak in the Big Ten since 2012 and the longest streak at Indiana since at least 1990.
His eight double-figure games this season lead the Big Ten and are tied for third-most nationally.
So it’s no wonder Scales picked up national recognition after such a strong season.
“It was a humbling experience,” Scales said of earning All-American honors. “It was a team achievement. I take credit, but at the same time, it was a team achievement because without them it wouldn’t have been possible. It’s one of those things where you have to accept it and keep moving forward.”
With leadership, production and, of course, the kind of lightheartedness that keeps this group loose and ready to play.
“He’s embraced that and done an awesome job,” Allen said. “He’s had a tremendous year on the field, but he’s also had a tremendous year leading our team.”