Scales putting wrestling background to good use

Tegray Scales once had a wish.

If the Indiana linebacker had it his way, he would’ve been a two-sport star in college.

That was Scales at Colerain High School in Cincinnati, where he earned scholarship offers on the football field, while also generating statewide acclaim on the wrestling mat.

In a former life, Scales was one of the most decorated wrestlers in Ohio, qualifying for states three times and finishing second at 195 pounds as a high school senior in 2014.

“What people don’t know is I would’ve wrestled in college if they had a weight class in between 197 (pounds) and heavyweight,” Scales said. “But I’m 225 and I’m not wrestling heavyweight (at 285).”

Even so, there’s a place for Scales’ wrestling prowess on IU’s football team. The moves and the mindset that fueled him to standout performances on the mat have transferred to the gridiron, where Scales leads the Hoosiers into Saturday’s matchup with Charleston Southern one week after authoring one of the best games of his career.

Scales set a new career high with three sacks during last Saturday’s 45-14 loss at Penn State, posting the fourth multi-sack performance of his four-year career.

He also led all Hoosiers with 11 tackles, including seven solo stops while contributing to a solid IU defensive showing that slowed Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley and kept Indiana within reasonable striking distance after an ugly, error-riddled start.

“How is he so effective? There’s no wasted motion,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “His footwork is clean. He doesn’t take false steps. We’re big in that everything we do is flow driven.”

Scales credits his wrestling experience for his balance, footwork, quick hands and goal-driven mentality.

Allen understands the sentiment.

The Indiana coach himself was a former high school wrestler, and when he goes looking for the next crop of Hoosier defenders on the recruiting trail, Allen considers a prospect’s wrestling background as a considerable mark in their favor.

“I love recruiting wrestlers,” Allen said. “Especially on the line of scrimmage (or as) a linebacker. I think those guys are good tacklers. They’re good offensive linemen, usually, and really good defensive linemen.

“I just think that it’s a mindset too, a toughness that you have to have to compete in that sport. It’s different. Tegray Scales was a great high school wrestler.”

That’s a fact Allen is quick to note when NFL scouts visit practice and inquire about Scales, who is on track to play in the league this time next fall.

Scales lettered in wrestling during all four years at Colerain, placing fourth at state in the 182-pound division as a sophomore, placing seventh at state in the 195-pound division as a junior and coming in second in the same class as a senior.

“To me, that’s one reason why he’s such a good tackler and why he’s so mentally tough,” Allen said. “I think wrestling is a great complement to football.”

Although he’s purely a football player now, Scales still tries to wrestle when he can.

Two of the most accomplished high school wrestlers in IU’s football locker room are himself and defensive end Allen Stallings, who won an Illinois Class 3A title in the 220-pound class as a senior at Oak Park-River Forest High School in 2016.

“We spar a little bit,” Scales said. “I might get in on him and we stop, so we really can’t tell you who’s the best. But I think I got him for sure.”

Scales got to Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley multiple times last weekend, demonstrating once again on a Big Ten stage his dogged devotion to winning individual matchups however they arise.

“It goes back to my background as a wrestler,” Scales said. “I like one-on-one matches and stuff of that nature. When I get the opportunity to do that, I take full advantage of it.”