IOWA CITY, Ia. — The final drive of Iowa’s 55-24 beatdown of Ohio State on Saturday was all about Toren Young.
The Hawkeyes’ redshirt freshman running back, third on the depth chart, kept pounding the middle of a Buckeye defense that wanted no part of the 220-pounder.
Young picked up two yards, then a burst for 34, followed by two more, another three and finally a six-yard touchdown, with the Hawkeye faithful roaring with approval as they prepared to storm onto the field.
It was a relatively meaningless score in the scheme of things. But not to Young. Or his mother, Tianna Parkinson, who was there to witness it.
It was the first touchdown of Young’s Iowa career, and he said Tuesday he almost choked up while crossing the goal line, thinking first of his mother.
“She’s always believed in me. She knew what I was capable of,” Young said.
After the game, Young found his mother at his house and the two hugged.
“She told me she’s so proud of me,” Young said. “I’ve got a lot more work to do, too. She told me that.”
Sunday was Parkinson’s birthday. Young treated her to dinner to cap a wonderful weekend.
This weekend could be just as meaningful. Young is returning to his hometown as the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) take on No. 3 Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0) in a 2:30 p.m. game televised by ABC. Dozens of his family members, friends, former coaches and teachers will be there to watch in Madison.
They won’t all be rooting for Young’s team, of course.
“A lot of them joke and say, ‘I hope you play well but the Badgers win,’” Young said.
“I think I’ll be able to convert a couple of those fans.”
They were the ones who had faith that Young could get this far, actually earning carries at the Division I level. Others doubted that Young, at 5-foot-11 and not fleet of foot, was cut out for it.
“I was told, ‘Oh well, maybe he’s a lower-division talent.’ Or, ‘He might be able to play defense in college, but I don’t know about running back,’” said Young, who rushed for 2,779 yards and 28 touchdowns as an all-state senior at Monona Grove High School. “I just used it to build a chip on my shoulder.”
Wisconsin was aware of Young, but never offered him a scholarship. Neither did anyone else. Except Iowa.
Young said he doesn’t feel any animosity toward his hometown team. He’s grateful to be at Iowa, where he has rushed for 161 yards this fall.
“It’s all about finding the perfect fit for me and for them,” Young said of the Badger coaching staff. “They needed to find their perfect fit and maybe I wasn’t that fit for them, and that’s OK. I found a spot. I love it here.”
Toren Young runs for a 47-yard touchdown at Iowa's Kids Day open practice. Main Bain/HawkCentral
Young sat out last year but had an strong spring to rise up the Hawkeye depth chart. He seemed to be in line to be the primary backup to senior Akrum Wadley until James Butler transferred in from Nevada for his senior season.
Young didn’t get on the field until Week 3 against North Texas, after injuries to Wadley and Butler. He ended up leading Iowa with 78 rushing yards in that win. He also found that the college game requires a much more sophisticated skill set than just lining up in a Power I formation and running as fast and as hard as you can at overmatched high school defenses.
“I was eager to just cut it up and get in there, but you’ve got to really be patient and let the blocks develop,” Young said. “It’s tough sometimes. You get excited and you just want to go, go, go. But you’ve got to really slow it down and let things play out.”
Young has appeared in only three games since, even with Butler missing four games with his elbow injury.
“I understand in those tough and close games like that you need your seniors on the field,” Young said. “It’s all about patience. I know I’ll get my opportunities here and there. I’ve just got to be ready.”
Wadley, who has rushed for 761 yards, is Young’s roommate. He has been joking with him all year, telling him he’s definitely going to play in the upcoming game only to see Young sit out. Or Wadley will tell Young he’s not playing that week and then be surprised to see him get in the game.
Ultimately, Young just asked Wadley to keep telling him he won’t see action on the weekend, figuring that’s the best sign that he actually will.
This week, Young got the last laugh. He can finally say he outscored Wadley in a game.
“He’s going to put up a lot of yards. He’s special,” Wadley said of Young.
“He’s a really good practice player. He runs really hard. And he always finishes runs.”
Wadley can relate to not being wanted out of high school. The New Jersey native had only two college offers himself. Now he’s closing in on his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. It’s certainly worked out for him. He’s confident it will for Young as well.
“If they were looking at (Young) now, I bet he’d get offers from a lot of other schools, too,” Wadley said.
After Saturday, Wisconsin might have second thoughts as well.