By LARRY VAUGHT
Until he mentioned it to me, I had forgot that it was almost seven years ago when Landon Young gave his verbal commitment to play football at Kentucky.
Now he’s in his fourth season at UK — he missed the 2018 season with a knee injury — and has become a fixture in a UK offensive line that helped Benny Snell become UK’s all-time leading rusher and now has helped Lynn Bowden rush for almost 500 yards in the last three games going into Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee.
“It was right at the end of my freshman year (at Lafayette High School) when (John) Schlarman took over (as offensive line coach) and I committed. We were just alike on so many things,” Young said. “It’s been a long road so far and I have known him for a long, long time but he’s just as helpful today as he was seven years ago.”
Young along with center Drake Jackson of Woodford County and linebacker Kash Daniel of Paintsville all made early verbal commitments to Kentucky to give coach Mark Stoops in-state building blocks he needed after he took over the program. All three are now starters.
“When Stoops and his coaching staff first came here and I started talking with Kash and Drake and they were on board just like I was,” said Young. “It was a dream at that point. What can we do to help the program when it was at such a low level? That’s what we talked about and we realized making the program better could be a reality if we all jumped on board.”
They certainly have been part of a football rejuvenation at Kentucky. The Cats have been to three straight bowl games since their arrival and last year’s 10-3 mark will be remembered for a long, long time. Recruiting continues to steadily improve and Young doesn’t think that will change.
“What the program has done has been incredible,” Young said. “The coaches have recruited high class kids. There are not any energy vampires on the team to bring us down. Just outstanding kids here to win games and get a degree. Once you get the negativity out, it’s amazing how the program can flip around.”
Young admits going 10-3 might have been even a bit more than he hoped for when he came to Kentucky believing things would get better.
“At first it was just a dream to help make the program better. Being 2-8 you don’t expect in three years to win 10 games but it happens,” Young said. “You have to give it to everybody on the team, including coaches, who dove into this believing it could happen.”
Young still remembers Schlarman promising him that Stoops planned to make character a priority in recruiting.
“I think now a lot of coaches are looking more at the character of the kids they recruit,” Young said. “If a kid’s character is no good, he can be a team pain and drag the team down. We are a close group. There are not position groups any more. We are all one big group and mesh really well and it shows.”
Young learned the value of character early from his father who taught him that meant more than anything he would accomplish in sports or anything else. That’s why he was thrilled when he was named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team® and nominated for the Wuerffel Trophy, both awards that value character and community service as much or more than football ability.
“To be recognized for something in my sport that is about more than just my sport does reflect more on what I am to other people and how I treat others rather than just what I do on the football field,” Young said.
But that Mr. Nice Guy personality disappears on the football field.
“I do change a little bit. You don’t want to really see me on the field,” Young laughed and said. “It is a different mentality. It’s always been like a switch I can turn on. Coaches always tell you to control that aggression, and that is what I hone in on or try to.
“I am a nice guy and do not want you to think I am a mean person on the field. But I like to think that on the field I am not a guy you want to against because my personality does change when it is time to play.”