Perry Young does not have the size of a prototypical linebacker.
“I am 5’10½” – 5’11” on a good day – and I weigh 210,” Perry told me with a laugh. “I base my whole game on being fast and physical and finding the ball. Most of the time that makes up for my height and weight.”
Young is sufficiently athletic that if he were a few inches taller and about 20 pounds heavier, I suspect that the sophomore from Birmingham, AL might be playing for Alabama or Auburn instead of Cincinnati.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Young. “God didn’t make me 240 pounds and a little taller for some reason and I feel like I followed the right path. I really love it here and I’m just thankful that I’m here.”
The Bearcats’ new coaching staff is happy to have him. Despite receiving limited playing time as a freshman, Young tied for eighth on the team in tackles last season and he’s been working with the first unit at outside linebacker during spring practice.
“If you’re not physical you can’t play linebacker,” said defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. “I don’t care how big he is, he’s physical enough and athletic enough to play the linebacker position at a high level.”
Young was recruited as a defensive back, but quickly changed positions.
“I came in as a nickel or safety, but as time went by they saw that I was a pretty physical kid,” said Young. “When I was matched up with wideouts I used to beat them up first and cover later. So they said, ‘Hey, do you want to try linebacker out?’ I’ve been playing it ever since and I really enjoy it.”
Under the previous coaching staff the Bearcats’ base defense was a 4-2-5 alignment where the fifth defensive back was a hybrid safety/linebacker. But that is not how Young is expected to be used in 2017.
“In our defense we consider him an outside linebacker,” said Freeman. “I know that there are different terms, but it’s all about what you’re asking that guy to do. In our defense we’re asking him to do a lot. It’s a specific type of player to play that SAM linebacker position, but we consider him a linebacker.”
Young is learning the nuances of the position from Freeman who was a second team All-Big Ten linebacker at Ohio State in 2008 and a fifth-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears.
“It’s a difficult position at first, but Coach Freeman is taking the time to coach me and all of the other SAM linebackers,” said Young. “Our defense is based on it being a physical and simple game. They’re doing a good job of coaching it because it’s coming natural to us.
“Coach Freeman is a really high-tempo guy. He’s young and he knows how to relate to the players. I feel like I can always go to him when I have a problem. I feel really comfortable around him and I feel like he always wants to talk to us. I think he’s a really great guy and I’m looking to him being my coach for the next few years.”
Freeman won’t have to worry about Young giving maximum effort.
“Perry is a guy that no matter whether he is right or wrong, he’s just going,” said Freeman. “That’s what we preach around here – effort and attitude. He’s a guy that gives 100% effort every time that he’s on the field.”
When I spoke with Young after a recent practice, it appeared that he didn’t want to leave the field.
“I love being out here, love the contact, and love the high energy,” he said. “Yeah we’re going to get tired, but if you love it, you really just want to go hard for yourself and all of your brothers out here. There’s never a moment where I’m not smiling or dancing around when I’m out there.
“I’m actually sad that practice is over.”
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