EUGENE, Ore. - As Terence Scott ran down the tunnel and onto the field for his senior-day game at the University of Oregon on Nov. 15, a flood of memories came back to him.
Thousands of fans at Autzen Stadium cheered for the Ducks as they prepared to take on Arizona, but Scott could only think back to every person who ever doubted he would get to this point.
Scott, a senior receiver, will play his final game for the Ducks on Tuesday in the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma State. And if it weren't for a lifelong mentor, Scott might never have made it.
Enter Steve Kruger
Terence Scott was 8 years old the first time he met Steve Kruger, then a student at the University of Tennessee. Scott, who grew up in Knoxville and played high school football at Central, was being raised by his mom and four sisters. His mother, Terri Robinson, says she needed someone to teach her son "how to become a man."
Sensing the need for a male influence, Robinson signed up Scott for the Big Brothers program, a national organization designed to pair children with mentors who will provide positive influence. Kruger, now 38, had benefited from a Big Brother relationship when he was young, and wanted to give back.
"My mother did an amazing job raising me," the 22-year-old Scott said. "She used to tell me when I was younger that she's my mother and she's my father, but there were just some male things she couldn't teach me. I give her all the credit for (being) willing go … find a male role model."
Their first meeting took place at a McDonald's. Scott doesn't remember much of what happened at the restaurant, but he does remember the conversation he had with Kruger as he got out of the car.
"Will I get to see you again?" asked Scott, happy to have found a new friend but wondering if Kruger would stick around. Kruger assured Scott he would see him again, and made plans for the following week.
From there, they were inseparable. Scott would call Kruger early in the mornings when they were supposed to hang out to make sure the play date was still on. Even when Kruger couldn't spend time with Scott, he made sure Scott wasn't alone.
"One year when Terence was much younger, Steve went on a tour (in Europe) and he was gone for six weeks," Robinson said, "and the whole six weeks he was gone he made sure someone came there each week and spend time with Terence. Steve's incredible."
Detour but determined
Kruger's relationship with Scott continued into high school, when Kruger helped Scott through one of the tougher times in his life.
By his senior year, Scott was a standout receiver for Central. Marshall University was set to sign Scott but at the last minute backed out, in part because of Scott's grades. Devastated, Scott went to Kruger's house.
"In my mind I was making the turns to go to school, but when I looked up, I was parked in front of his driveway," Scott said. "When I got there, he held me and we both just cried."
Added Kruger: "I don't think I felt as bad as Terence did that day but I felt worse than anyone else could."
It was hardly the first time Scott had faced adversity.
In high school, a guidance counselor told Scott he "wasn't college material." Kruger didn't believe it for a second, instead telling Scott he would go to college, and that he believed Scott could achieve anything.
After Marshall fell through, Kruger helped Scott get in touch with coaches at College of the Canyons, a junior college in California. Kruger then loaned Scott his car for the drive out to Valencia, and flew out to help him get settled. When it was finally time for Kruger to head back to Knoxville, the friends struggled to hold in their emotions.
"I packed all my stuff up and I walked out of the hotel room, turned around to give him a hug and if anyone had walked past us, they would have thought something was up," Scott recalled laughing. "Here I am with my luggage, Steve's still in his boxers, we're hugging each other and just crying, crying, crying."
After a few weeks, Scott called Kruger homesick and crying. Kruger told Scott he could come home if he wanted, but he would regret it. He also told Scott if he tried to leave, Kruger would call the cops and say Scott had stolen his car.
"Now that I look back on it I realize it was mean," Scott said, "but I never left because I was afraid the police were going to pull me over."
Scott fought through the bout of homesickness, and it paid off. He led the Cougars in receiving both seasons, with 65 receptions for 995 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2006.
He signed with Oregon and injuries to the Ducks forced Scott to burn his redshirt season in 2007.
This season Scott has done his part to help Oregon to a 9-3 record, leading the Ducks with 626 receiving yards.
At Scott's senior-day game against Arizona six weeks ago, Kruger finally saw what all their hard work had done.
Kruger said sitting out on the field for his senior-day game was "overwhelming."
"I'm sitting there looking at him thinking, 'Don't you start crying because I'll start crying and I've got the camera in my face. I'm not about to let 50,000 people see me cry.' " Scott said.
Robinson says Kruger's influence on her family's life has been profound, and that she knows it will continue for years to come.
"They've been great together," Robinson said. "They're closer today than they ever were. Steve has went far and beyond. He's a part of our family and will be for the rest of our life."
But perhaps the greatest indicator of Kruger's impact on Scott is this: Scott, who many doubted would ever make it in college, will graduate next year with a degree in sociology.
"There's nothing he'll do on a football field that will impress me half as much as what he does in the classroom because nobody ever game him the credit that he could succeed in the classroom," Kruger said. "He couldn't read when I first met him. But time after time, he's overcome everything people have put in his path."