Saturday, May 26

Inside linebacker Kenny Young proves a promising start

Freshman linebacker Kenny Young is in the thick of the most competitive position battle at UCLA's fall training camp. (Katie Meyers/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Freshman linebacker Kenny Young is in the thick of the most competitive position battle at UCLA's fall training camp. (Katie Meyers/Daily Bruin senior staff)

SAN BERNARDINO — Kenny Young made the distinctive arm motion twice, crossing his arms over one another in the air, and releasing them outwards – “No good.”

Moments before, in the one-on-one red zone coverage drill, the pass into the end zone appeared it would just sail over the linebacker’s head for a completion. That was until Young turned on the spot, batting it away from the receiver’s outstretched hands.

For a third-year defensive back, a play read like that is somewhat routine. The same can hardly be said for Young, a freshman inside linebacker in his fifth day of fall training camp.

By many accounts, Young’s ahead of the curve.

“He has been very impressive, from the standpoint of his capacity to learn our defense,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “Typically the freshmen, that’s the hardest thing. … It’s a new language, it’s new concepts, it’s new everything. … It hasn’t been too big (of a change) for him yet.”

To some, it’s an unexpectedly fast start for Young. To Ulbrich, not so much.

In his eyes, it’s the same kid who spent his high school spring break this past April at UCLA, inside his office, learning. Each day, when Ulbrich arrived at his office in the morning, he’d find Young there. And each day, when Ulbrich left, Young remained.

This summer, as other players have adjusted to school and dorm life, Young has come to Ulbrich’s office every single day.

“(Young’s there) wearing me out, wearing (another) coach … out. Anybody that would listen to him, he wanted to talk ball and watch film,” Ulbrich said.

If it was possible to wear out the film room, Young might have done that too. After all, he was there every day – trying to learn the defense, trying to learn his position, trying to learn as much as possible.

“I was like, ‘I’m just going to dedicate my time to the film, into the playbooks and just learning,’” he said. “That’s why I’m here, honestly.”

While sitting out due to injury last season, redshirt senior defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa remembers observing his teammates much of the time. He’d watch their mannerisms and their demeanors. Watching Young now, his dedication and attitude remind Odighizuwa of only one other freshman: Myles Jack.

“That’s the thing that was very inspiring about (Young),” Odighizuwa said. “He’s a young guy who came in with the hunger and desire to be great, not just average, or just another guy on the team.”

Perhaps it’s too early – or better yet, too much of a stretch – to push the comparison of Young’s freshman campaign to Jack’s, the star sophomore linebacker.

But Young is in a battle for playing time, and has a chance to wind up a starter as only a freshman.

In what appears to be the most competitive position battle of the Bruins’ fall camp, Young is vying for the inside linebacker spot along with redshirt senior Ryan Hofmeister, sophomores Jayon Brown and Isaako Savaiinaea, and freshman Zach Whitley.

“Whatever cream rises from that group is going to be special,” Ulbrich said.

If it’s Young, consider it a fittingly early rise.

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