Albany High star linebacker Juwon Young is already garnering serious interest from major Division I programs like Auburn, Florida and Georgia — and he’s just a junior. Young made 100 tackles, including 20 for losses, and nine sacks last season and already had 62 tackles, four for loss, and six sacks through six games so far this year. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Getting to know Juwon Young:
The Dynamite “Half-Dozen” Q and A
Here are a half-dozen questions for our Dynamite Dozen players about their likes off the football field:
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: “Ramen Noodles. I’ve been eating them since I was little and watching Scooby-Doo.”
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: (Rapper) “Chance.”
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: ”Ray Lewis.”
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: (Singer) “Kelly Rowland.”
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: “My dad. I get everything from my dad’.’’
It’s not so much a memory as much as it’s a tug at his heart, a gentle and steady reminder of who he is and what he wants to be.
It’s hidden there, beneath the fury and the power, tucked away for no one to see. But it’s there.
It’s there every time Juwon Young makes a hit, makes a tackle and makes a name for himself. They loved him at the University of Florida and drooled over him at Auburn. Georgia and a long list of big-time college programs have their eye on Young, a junior linebacker at Albany High who plays the game like there is no tomorrow.
Because there was none for his father.
James Young’s death is still a mystery. Juwon was 5 and has played detective for years, asking family members and friends about his father and what exactly happened that night.
“My dad had a shotgun with him because he was worried about being robbed, and the shotgun went off accidentally and killed him,’’ Juwon said at practice Tuesday. “That’s what I have been told happened. I’ve talked to a lot of people. It’s still a mystery that the police have never solved.’’
The tragic death has never left Juwon, who plays the game for his father.
“My dad was a great player at Dougherty, but he never had the chance to go on and play in the NFL,’’ Juwon said. “That’s why I want to make it.
“I can’t explain it. I want to make it to the NFL for my dad. I know my dad would have made it. He never got the chance. It’s what drives me. My father never had the chance. I want to make his (dream) come true. And I know he will be watching me from up there.’’
That drive comes from his heart — and is relentless.
“He is here at 6 in the morning (on school days), working out in the weight room,’’ said Albany High coach Felton Williams, who is astounded at times by Young’s dedication. “He calls me every Sunday and asks if I can meet him and unlock the weight room so he can work out — every Sunday afternoon.”
Williams then added: “We were off of school last Friday, and he called me to ask if he could come up to the school at 7 in the morning to work out in the weight room. He calls me all the time with questions about the game, always trying to get better.
“He’ll call me at night, and I’ll say, ‘Juwon, what is it? I’m in bed.’ And he will have a question about the game. He just wants to get better and better.’’
Williams always answers his phone.
“When you get a player like him, you answer the phone,’’ he said with a smile. “When you have a kid that hungry, you always answer the phone.’’
Williams knows his linebacker is special.
“He’s got that ‘It (factor),’ ’’ he said. “You know, that It.’’
It’s a long way from Friday Night Lights to Sunday afternoons, but Young is one of those players who might just make it. He was born to play linebacker with the size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), speed (4.6 in the 40) and a desire to tackle every obstacle.
He’s still got a year left at Albany, but he dazzled college coaches this past summer at camps at Georgia, Auburn and Florida.
“Auburn is head over heels for him, and so is Florida, and Georgia really likes him, too,’’ Williams said. “He came out of those summer camps getting a lot of attention.’’
It doesn’t take long to find Young, who moved from defensive end to linebacker, where he his future likely lies. Just show up at an Albany High game and he will stand out immediately. He has that kind of presence on the field.
And once the game starts, just watch the ball. That’s where Young is headed. He doesn’t attack. He devours.
“He comes hard on every play,’’ said Albany High defensive end Dontravious Heath, also a junior. “He just runs over people. He hits like he’s already at the next level.’’
Albany High quarterback Emanuel Byrd shakes his head when talking about Young.
“I’ve never seen anybody who loves to hit more than Juwon,’’ he said. “He’s got speed and agility, and he just loves to hit people. And he can chase down anybody. When we played Lee County, he made a play on the running back, Kenneth Hurley, when Hurley went down the right sideline and it didn’t look like anyone could catch him. I thought he was gone, but Juwon came from the other side of the field and ran him down at the 5-yard line.
“If he keeps improving mentally, he can be unstoppable. He can be one of the best linebackers to ever come out of Albany High.’’
Young believes he will rise to the top at every level, and his teammates agree.
“I believe I’ll see him on Monday Night Football,’’ receiver Rantiez Williams said. “He has the dream of playing in the NFL, and I believe he will do it. You can tell he’s dedicated. He’s a beast in the weight room. If the weight was a piece of chicken, he would eat it. He eats the weights. He’s the glue to the defense. You know, the earth has the crust and the core. He’s the core.’’
Byrd said the weight didn’t have to be chicken.
“I believe he would eat the iron,’’ he said. “He would. He could run through a brick wall.’’
Young came into his own last year as a sophomore, emerging as a force in just his second season of high school football. He made 100 tackles, including 20 for losses and nine sacks, and this year was a clear choice as a Herald Dynamite Dozen preseason selection. He’s on pace this year for an even bigger season with 62 tackles, four for loss, and six sacks through six games.
“My sophomore year, that’s where everything just came alive,’’ Young said. “I went to the national underclassmen combine in Atlanta the summer before my sophomore year. That helped my speed and quickness and my hands. When I came back, I went to the weight room. People would go out all the time and party that summer, but I wouldn’t go. I went to the weight room every day and then I went to bed at night. They were going out, and I would say, ‘Go ahead — I’ll catch you tomorrow.’ ”
That’s where Young lives — in the weight room, constantly pushing himself.
“He loves the weight room,’’ Felton Williams said. “Basically, he’s a football junkie. He loves everything about the game, and he especially loves the physical aspect of the game. He loves to hit somebody.
“I wish I had a team with five like him. If you had five players like him, you could compete at any classification.”
Williams knew Young would be a force before he left Albany High, but even Williams was surprised at Young’s ascension as a sophomore.
“You were waiting for that light to go on in the middle of his junior year,’’ Williams said. “But it was on at the beginning of his sophomore year.’’
Young hasn’t slowed down, and he even had a chance to run the ball some this season.
“He had a play against Americus when he was playing fullback,’’ Heath said. “And he ran over the lineman, ran over the linebacker and ran over the safety.’’
The colleges will be running to Young next year, and he said this week that he is looking forward to the rush and making the decision.
“I’ve got to take the SAT test and get a good score — a real good score,’’ Young said. “I can’t wait to (play college ball). I know I will (succeed).’’
He was invited to visit Florida two weeks ago along with about 20 other top recruits to be on hand for the Florida-LSU game. The visit left an impression.
“It opened my eyes to a new level of ball,’’ said Young, who grew up as a Gators fan. “I was deep in their locker room and saw the way they do things in college. It’s like a house inside the school. I loved it.’’
His father died at the age of 20 without ever having the chance to play college ball. Juwon has spent his lifetime asking about his father. Everyone tells him he is a lot like his dad.
“Everything I got, I got from my father,’’ Juwon said. “He was a great player, and I play like he played. My uncle was at an Early County game last year when I sacked the quarterback three times in a row, and he told me, ‘You hit hard, but not as hard as your dad.’ And (Westover assistant coach Cleatus) Hopkins told me that. He was at Dougherty with my father and told me that my dad played running back, linebacker and cornerback and that my dad played a lot like me.
“He told me I don’t hit as hard as my dad.’’
Felton Williams, who played at Albany High, also remembers James Young.
“Juwon has a lot of attributes from his dad,’’ he said. “But Juwon has taken it to another level.’’
Williams said he thought Juwon was a little better, and added that the sky is the limit for his talented linebacker. And he knows why.
“It’s a hidden drive,’’ Williams said. “He has that hidden drive in him that comes (from his father). You see that drive in a lot of kids, but with him it’s deep within. With him, it’s something special.’’
Young sees himself running in those huge footprints.
“I can imagine my dad making plays. I can see him,’’ he said. “I want to make it for him. Since I started playing football in Little League when I was 7, I have wanted to play for him. I want to carry his dream, and make him proud of me.’’