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Wide receiver back from injury, sparks scouts' interest//

TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - A freak injury early in the first game of the season disrupted the 2016 Arena Football League plans of Nick Truesdell, but the Portland Steel receiver has come back strong down the stretch.Nick Truesdell has a to-do list he looks forward to tackling as the Portland Steel’s season comes to a climax.

It includes:

• Catch a few more passes at Moda Center

• Help lead the Steel into their Arena Football League first-round playoff game Aug. 6 at the Arizona Rattlers

• Continue to mature as an overall football player

• Prepare to be a husband

• Continue to mature as a human being

• See how far he can go in football

Truesdell has been working on all of the above, and that’s why his future — and present — looks brighter than it did a few years ago.

A 6-7 Steel wide receiver, Truesdell has NFL and CFL scouts intrigued and opposing AFL defensive coordinators fixated.

“I’ve had NFL teams calling about him,” says Ron James, Steel coach and general manager. “His measurables are what they look for. He’s an interesting prospect, has really good speed for his size and good hands. I’m sure I’ll get a few more calls and teams checking in on his progress.”

All this interest is happening even though Truesdell, 26, has relatively little game experience, due largely to a couple of wayward years when he was trying to transition from being a standout on an Ohio state championship team to college student-athlete.

A Cincinnati native with tantalizing physical skills for football, Truesdell got into trouble more than once as a teenager seemingly on track to play a lot for the University of Cincinnati. There was a theft at the UC bookstore. “Stole a pair of headphones and a video game. Just being stupid,” he says. And charges of burglary and unauthorized use of a vehicle. “I knew the garage code at my best friend’s parents’ house. They went on vacation, and I was just really stupid again,” he says. And then another arrest, and a drug trafficking charge, when he was found in a car with three bags of marijuana and a scale.

His mother worked nights, and while she was gone Truesdell says he would often just goof off.

“I was kind of a glorified athlete and thought I could do whatever I wanted,” he says. “I didn’t deal with things the right way. I wasn’t focused on school. I was more focused on having fun and partying with my friends.”

The arrests landed him in jail and/or a correctional facility a couple of times, once for about eight months. The mistakes also cost the Anderson High School graduate a college scholarship with the hometown Bearcats and a Division I career.

“I found out the hard way,” Truesdell says. “I got to college and thought I could still do what I wanted. Thought I didn’t have to go to class and things like that.”

Having to do 300 hours of community service and spending a six-month stretch in a correctional institution convinced him to seek support and go on a different path, he says.

“I thought, ‘Man, this is horrible,’” he says. “But I needed that time to figure things out. I didn’t have any answers. I was trying to do everything on my own, and that wasn’t working.”

Truesdell wound up having to go a different route on the gridiron, after being dismissed from the University of Cincinnati team. He enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan and got off to a great start, only to tear an ACL after one game. He then hired an agent and went to various pro camps, tryouts and workouts, but found he needed more football seasoning.

“I was more athletic and bigger than a lot of guys, but I didn’t have the skill set or knowledge of the game,” he says.

He bounced around with a couple of arena football teams, in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Bemidji, Minnesota, before getting a shot with Spokane of the AFL.

It was with the Shock in 2014-15 that Truesdell — teammates call him “True” or “Trues” — really began to open, or reopen, some eyes. In 1 1/2 seasons, he had 113 receptions for 1,332 yards and 30 touchdowns.

In one game last season against Portland, he had five TD catches in the first half. By intermission, his Spokane teammates were wondering if he might have a shot at the league record (nine TD receptions), but a strained hamstring held him back.

Various injuries over the years have limited his playing time. He missed 11 of the first 12 games for Portland this year with a freak ankle injury that required surgery to repair torn ligaments.

But, early in his development, it was his own decisions and actions that took him away from the game.

“All my own doing, my own choices,” he says. “Outside of high school, I’ve probably played only two full years of football, really.”

Now, though, he has the Steel to help him grow, and the focus to go with his attributes, and the attitude to match his potential.

He’s grateful for second chances, smiles a lot, is fun to be around, is humble and is very coachable.

“He’s a pretty raw talent,” Portland coach James says, “but he’s so excited about what he’s doing, and he’s like a sponge in the meeting room. And the more reps he gets on the field, the better he’s going to get.”

Despite a slight, occasional stutter, Truesdell is talkative and expressive — and he can really sing. He belted out the national anthem before his last home game in Spokane and says he wouldn’t mind trying it again.

“I was pretty nervous,” he recalls. “It was hard because I was getting ready for a game and all hyped up and then had to calm down to sing. But it was fun.”

Also while he was playing for Spokane, he met Bailee Jacka, a University of Montana cheerleader and former pole vaulter who is studying history, coaching gymnastics and wants to be a paralegal. They hit it off, and last December, he proposed to her while on a trip to London to meet his father and little sister and that side of his family.

“She’s good for me,” Truesdell says of his fiancee. “She keeps me in line. And she’s really independent, which I like.”

Truesdell’s dad, by the way, has an athletic background, too; Richard Scantlebury, 6-6, played pro basketball in England after competing for Coastal Carolina.

And Truesdell’s uncle, Peter Scantlebury, was one of the all-time great basketball players in England and for that country’s national team.

Nick Truesdell was going to try to play both football and basketball for the Cincinnati Bearcats, but he wound up never getting onto either the field or the court.

“Too bad. I think I could have done well in their (football) offense,” he says.

To this day, “a lot of NFL teams ask about my past,” he says, “and I just have to explain to them that I’ve moved on.”

Truesdell never even played receiver until his senior year of high school; growing up, he was a running back, linebacker, offensive lineman and punter. But catching passes in the Arena Football League has enabled him to give other pro scouts a glimpse of what he can do. With his height, he’s a red-zone threat, in particular. And he hopes to get invited to another NFL camp soon, possibly with Indianapolis or Detroit.

James says Truesdell just might make it.

“I’ve talked to six NFL teams about various players on our team, and his name keeps popping up,” James says.

With his frame, some consider Truesdell a candidate to be a hybrid tight end/wideout in the mold of Jimmy Graham of the Seattle Seahawks or the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce (another Ohio native, who played for the Cincy Bearcats) or the Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Eifert.

Truesdell is playing at about 215 pounds with the Steel, but he says he would have no trouble gaining weight and has weighed 250 or more before. He has about 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash and, by all accounts, the upside to get better across the board.

What’s more, “I’m really hungry to play,” he says, which explains why he was able to get back in time for the Steel’s stretch run.

“He rehabbed so hard to get back on the field,” James says. “We thought we’d lost him for the season, for sure. But he wants it that badly.”

Truesdell made his return to the Steel on June 27 against the Philadelphia Soul. He dusted off the cobwebs and caught four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. “He was about 85 percent for that game,” James says. “Now he’s close to 100 percent.”

Truesdell all but took over in the second half last week at Tampa Bay, blistering the Storm for three touchdowns in a big Portland rally that came up just short, as the Steel lost 41-40.

The Steel have one more game at Moda Center, a 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, meeting with the Los Angeles KISS.

Like with a lot of the Steel players, every game counts, as Truesdell is still learning the nuances of arena football.

“Everything happens so quick and in less space,” he says, “but it’s all football, and it’s fun. And it’s meant to have a lot of scoring, which is fun for the guys on offense.”

If and when an outdoor team gives him a call, though, he owes it to himself to answer.

“I want to move up,” he says. “I think I could play at a higher level, and make a big impact, too.”

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