Michael Young is high on Illinois' football future.
Sept. 18, 2000
by Susan Robinson, UI Athletic Public Relations
Kids sign up for everything when they are young. It's a time for them to find out what they like and dislike in life. Football was one of the things Michael Young liked.
Young has been playing organized football since the age of seven. Throughout his young career in Hazelwood, Mo., he was a part of seven city championships and two national championships on his junior team while never losing a game.
The winning continued for Young throughout his high school career at Hazelwood East. Young holds the record for the longest fumble return for a touchdown in a Missouri state championship game with a 55-yard recovery. The highly touted two-way starter helped compile a 34-2 record his last three seasons. He made the decision to jump the border and come to Illinois.
Positions at linebacker were opening up in Champaign. Gone were the linebacker duo of Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice. But Coach Lou Tepper decided to redshirt Young. "I was given a chance to get bigger, stronger and faster," he said.
"Redshirting gave me an opportunity to figure out the college game," Young added. "The older guys on the team were really good about trying to teach us how to survive in the classroom and on the field."
With four years of eligibility left, Young was not apprehensive when Tepper left and Ron Turner came to town.
"I was a starter right off the bat," Young said. "My first year I wanted to get to a bowl game but it didn't happen."
The 0-11 1997 campaign was a season Young was unaccustomed to having.
"I had never lost every game during a football season in my life," Young admits. "It was tough to handle. We kept working, trying different things and adjusting techniques. But it just didn't seem to work in our favor."
On a personal level, the 1997 season has been Young's best season so far. He tallied 83 tackles for the season, including five tackles for loss and two sacks. Two of his career highs were against Purdue when Young had 15 tackles, of which nine were solos.
1998 was better for the team. "We got three wins, so it was better than the year before," noted Young. "I had an ankle injury that bothered me thoughout the season, but I think I contributed the best I could. We improved throughout the season, and it led up to last season.
"1999 was our breakout year," he continued. "We came out and showed everyone what we were capable of doing. People know what to expect from us for this year.
"Our team goal is to do better than last year. I'm going to do all I can to make this team better."
Young knows the responsibility that comes with being the only returning starter of the linebacker corps. "I tell all the younger guys just what I was told when I first came here," noted Young. "You've got to get your priorities straight because school work comes first, then football."
Young also likes the outlook for the Illinois program. "There's a lot of talent coming up that not many people know is coming. The future of the program is looking good."
Young's future doesn't look too shabby, either. Recently named to the watch list for the Butkus Award that goes to the top collegiate linebacker, Young is starting to think about the NFL. "I don't want to think too much ahead, but I want to stay involved with football on the professional level," added Young. "Even when my playing days are through, I wouldn't mind working in an NFL office."
Not many people can say a decision they made as a young child led to their career as an adult. It seems Michael Young's decision to play football has been an important choice for him.