Tyler Scozzaro

Tyler Scozzaro, at center, is back after an All-America season in 2017.

Katy Nowak/JSU Photo

JACKSONVILLE — After finally getting to play regularly last season for Jacksonville State, Tyler Scozzaro wasn’t in a hurry to leave.

Because of a favorable NCAA ruling, he won’t have to — at least for another season. And the Gamecocks’ starting center couldn’t be more thrilled — even after a tough morning football practice highlighted by cold rain dropping occasionally.

“I bet you thought you’d never see me again,” Scozzaro said Tuesday morning with his typical big smile after the Gamecocks’ second practice of the spring.

Jacksonville State began spring football practice Monday, and Scozzaro is working out alongside his fellow Gamecocks after getting a sixth-year waiver from the NCAA.

He sat out his first year on campus in 2013 as a redshirt. He then played in six games in 2014 before needing surgery to keep his kneecap from dislocating. On the second day of preseason camp in 2015, he tore a knee ligament, which put him out for the season. He played occasionally as a backup in 2016 before moving into the starting lineup in 2017, which was his fifth season with the team.

Listed as a senior, he won first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors and was named to the Walter Camp FCS All-America squad. After the season, he applied for a sixth year to get back the season he lost to injury.

Scozzaro said he got support from head coach John Grass, offensive line coach Kevin Reavis and Misty Ray, an assistant athletics director for compliance. Successful sixth-year applications in the past by former JSU teammates Ra’Shad Green and Spencer Goffigan gave Scozzaro hope.

“I kept my fingers crossed,” Scozzaro said. “I didn’t know what would happen. I heard back in two or three weeks, which was a lot faster than I expected. For others, it seemed like three or four months.”

He said he found out after getting an email from Ray. The message was cryptic, just asking him to call her. When he did, he got the good news. He said he called his mom first.

“I’m just super-excited,” he said. “It’s like a dream. After last season, making All-American and All-OVC … it’s good to be back.”

Scozzaro’s return gives JSU an immediate leader on the offensive line, which lost tackles Dylan Cline and Justin Lea, both of whom earned All-America honors last season by at least one organization.

“It’s great to get him back,” Grass said. “The leadership and the character he brings are big. He’s persevered through a lot. He’s got a great story to tell now.”

As for young guys, Scozzaro said he sees good things from Nuka Yobo, Brangavious Bussey and Hunter Sosebee, among others, who are battling to join him and returning guards Darius Anderson, B.J. Autry and Nate Archie in the playing rotation.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.