When Taylor Young plays his last home game Saturday at McLane Stadium, a flood of emotions will likely hit him as hard as the blows he’s inflicted on quarterbacks and running backs for the last four years.
Young will think back to the glory days of his redshirt freshman year in 2014 when he started at outside linebacker for Baylor’s second straight Big 12 championship team.
He’ll recall all the changes he’s seen in the Baylor football program as it went through an ugly scandal, and how he’s always been there for his teammates and the three head coaches he’s played under.
There’s one thing Young knows for sure: His college experience has prepared him for life, the good and the bad.
“There have been a lot of bumps in the road but you’ve got to keep pushing,” Young said. “There are times I wish I could take back. But there’s been a lot of different things that I’ve learned and enjoyed over the past years. I just use it as a learning tool for life.”
The undersized 5-9 linebacker that most Division I schools overlooked out of DeSoto High School five years ago will leave his imprint all over the Baylor record book.
Young ranks second on Baylor’s career sacks list with 15.5 and third in school history with 39 tackles for loss. His 325 tackles are the eighth most in Baylor history heading into the final two games.
But there’s no way to quantify the impact he’s made on all the Baylor teammates and coaches he’s inspired for the last four years. When he leaves, his impression will still be felt by the younger players who have played alongside him.
“I’d go to war with Taylor any day of the week,” said Baylor sophomore defensive lineman Bravvion Roy. “He’s the heartbeat of the defense and I appreciate him for that. When you see him play, he plays like he’s 6-5. He goes out there and isn’t scared of anything. Taylor teaches the people under him. He knows what he’s doing and who he is leaving it for.”
Young’s senior season has been tough to experience as the Bears have gone 1-9 heading into their final two games against Iowa State this weekend followed by the Nov. 24 season finale against TCU in Fort Worth.
It’s been a severe plunge from the heights of the 2014 championship season to where the Bears are today following a sexual assault scandal that cost highly successful coach Art Briles his job in May 2016.
After graduating from Baylor with his degree in kinesiology last December, Young could have left all the issues the football program has experienced behind and become immediately eligible to play at any college he chose for his final year this fall.
First-year Baylor coach Matt Rhule said Young didn’t even want to talk to him or defensive coordinator Phil Snow and linebackers coach Mike Siravo after they arrived at the university last December. But Young agreed to stay through spring drills to see if he liked the new coaching staff.
“There were strong, strong forces pulling against him, telling him not to be here and to go somewhere else,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day, he just got around Coach Siravo and Coach Snow, and he listened to them talk about what they believed. All I said to him was, you know, try it for a semester. Come back in the spring and if you don’t like it, then you can always transfer somewhere else. He made that decision (to stay). It’s one that I’m grateful for.”
Young liked what the new coaching staff had to offer, but he also felt a bond to play his final college season with teammates who had endured the problems Baylor’s football program had gone through.
“I love my brothers,” Young said. “I started something here at Baylor and I wanted to finish it here. I liked Coach Rhule and I liked the message he was sending. Those were all the factors in me staying and I don’t regret it. Just to be here with all my brothers, my teammates who have seen me grow.”
From the moment he stepped on the field at Baylor out of DeSoto in 2013, Young played with a chip on his shoulder and an intensity in his eyes. Young had to play with supreme confidence and high energy just to get coaches to notice him.
Joining a veteran defense in 2014, Young made freshman All-American as he collected 92 tackles and four quarterback sacks. He was at his best in Baylor’s 42-41 loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl as he amassed 15 tackles and returned an interception 37 yards to earn the game’s defensive MVP honors.
“I embraced it,” Young said. “I enjoyed being in the spotlight. I had a lot of older guys to help me out and tell me that’s wrong and this is right. I was just trying my best to do my job and not mess up anything. Our team was just so good. You could tell it was a special team that year. Just being part of something special is something you’ll always remember.”
Young continued to play great football as a sophomore as he made 80 tackles on Baylor’s 10-3 team in 2015. He followed up with a career-high 93 tackles last season under interim coach Jim Grobe. Once again, he was at his best in the bowl game when he tied a career high with 17 tackles in a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.
For the first time in his career, Young won’t play for a bowl team this season. But that hasn’t stopped him from leading the Baylor defense with 60 tackles, including eight for loss.
Following a season-ending injury to Clay Johnston, Young has moved from outside to middle linebacker where he has recorded 19 tackles in the last two games against Kansas and Texas Tech.
“I’m always in the middle of the field, I never have to go across the field,” Young said. “I’m always where all the action is and that’s a little bit better for me. I get to control people and tell them what to do and how to do things, and that’s always good.”
While his focused play on the field has always been like an instructional manual for his teammates, Young has been a more vocal leader as a senior. Though he’s never blown up in his teammates faces, he’s been there to say the right words to help them out in different situations.
“He’s a quiet but strong voice in the locker room,” Rhule said. “He talks to guys that are disenfranchised. He talks to guys that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, and he tells them what we need them to do. He’s even a guy that I meet with and look to for advice because I trust him.”
With Young moving to the middle, sophomore Jordan Williams has stepped in at outside linebacker. He’s thankful to be starting next to the mentor from whom he’s learned so much.
“Being behind him for these three years since I’ve been here, it’s just been like learning from a vet, like learning from a pro,” Williams said. “He does everything right and he does everything at a high level. So being able to watch that and experience that from a back view, and now getting to play with him, it just brings out the best in me.”
Young plans to become a fireman like his father Rodney Young. He’s had a chance to ride in the fire truck along with his father, and believes he’d like to enter the profession.
“As a kid he took me on a whole bunch of rides on the fire truck and I saw a lot of different things,” Young said. “I always thought that was pretty cool. He thinks I’d be a great fireman, so I started to look into it. That’s something I’d enjoy doing.”
But Rhule has approached Young about getting into coaching, and thinks he’d be a natural because of his intelligence and instincts in dealing with players.
“I told him that whenever he’s done if he’s thinking about getting into coaching, he needs to let me know, because he just has a gift of affecting other people, and that’s hard to find,” Rhule said.
Young hopes NFL teams will look past his size and give him a shot to play. But before that day he’s got two games left to play for Baylor. He’s experienced a lot of highs and lows, and hopes to finish his career in a memorable way.
But through everything he’s experienced, he’s grown up a great deal and believes he’s ready for anything that life throws at him.
“I’ve had an awesome college career because I came in and we were one of the top teams my freshman year,” Young said. “Then I saw adversity and how I performed underneath adversity. That was a great deal for me as a human being and just growing and learning from the situation.”