“He is a leader and can make plays, too,” Young said.
Young’s development with the Owls’ defense is similar to James’ career path. Young’s first two seasons were flashy, spent racing around the field making plays – much like James was in his first Cleveland stint.
Last season as a sophomore Young was second on the Owls in tackles with 100. His two interceptions tied for the most among Owls.
Like James, Young also racked up many accolades, including being an Alton Sports Preseason All-Conference USA selection prior to this season.
Under Lane Kiffin’s new coaching regime Young, and most of his teammates, changed their mindset.
“Everybody bought into the system,” Young stated,
This year’s version of Jalen Young resembles James’ play once upon The King’s return to Cleveland. Both helped establish the other young players for the betterment of the team.
Now an upperclassman, Young’s leadership role on defense grew this year as he helped blend veterans with newcomers like Zyon Gilbert, Quran Hafiz and James Pierre.
“We have had a lot of young guys step up,” Young said.
Young enters Friday’s game against Marshall with 50 tackles and two interceptions. He is still second on the team in tackles but is unlikely to reach triple digits in tackles without the help of a couple postseason games.
The improved play of the defensive line and linebackers translated into more tackles near the line of scrimmage, reducing the need for Young, often the Owls’ last line of defense, to make touchdown-saving tackles.
Young can now focus more on making the plays deeper down the field rather than having to watch the ball the full time.
Even with his younger teammates making more plays, Young, like James, still comes though in the clutch. In Saturday’s victory over Western Kentucky he caused the fumble, recovered by Andrew Soroh, that led to the second of Devin Singletary’s four touchdown runs.
Now Young is focused on Marshall and what could be a battle that determines Conference USA’s East Division champion.
Last year against the Thundering Herd Young led the Owls in tackles with 16 and had the lone Owls’ interception in a 27-21 loss.
This year’s version of the Thundering Herd once again features quarterback Chase Litton, who threw for 363 yard on 33 completions in last week’s loss to FIU, and a couple of running backs, Keion Davis and Tyler King, who’ve given opponents fits.
“We need to focus on all the players around the field, they are all playmakers,” Young said.