IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa running back Toren Young would rather run over a would-be tackler than dart around him.
He was happy to discuss the topic with a reporter last week at the Hawkeye football complex.
“I pride myself on being physical and hard-nosed. I want to be known as a north-south guy. I want to be known as a guy that lets my playing do the talking and I can set the tone when I go in there and carry the ball,” said Young, a sophomore who sits atop the Iowa depth chart at running back entering the summer.
“I build off of it in physical games. There’s nothing better. I’ve been like that all my life. When you can run through a guy, there’s something that just gets me going and it helps me for the next play, helps me get stronger as the game goes versus running around a guy. It’s just a different feel for me.”
Young is a native of Madison, Wisconsin. That was home turf for Ron Dayne from 1996-99, when he aimed his 249-pound frame at every defender he could find and ended up with 7,125 rushing yards and a Heisman Trophy as a Wisconsin Badger.
“That sounds like Ron Dayne, but I’m sure he was before your time,” the reporter told Young after he’d finished his dissertation on dismantling defenses.
“Funny thing,” Young was quick to reply, his eyes lighting up.
“Me and his daughter and his son are best friends.”
Jada Dayne is a soccer player at Michigan, entering her third year in college just like Young.
Javian Dayne is two years younger, a standout running back who will be a freshman at Boston College this fall.
“They’re like a brother and sister to me,” Young said of the Daynes, who grew up about a 10 minutes' drive away from him.
They would hang out on the weekends. They went to high school dances together.
Of course, Young is familiar with Ron Dayne. But he said they never really talk about football. Young certainly wouldn’t dare compare himself to the man who twice gained more than 2,000 rushing yards in a single season at Wisconsin before a seven-year NFL career.
“He tells me, ‘Just be physical and work hard,’” Young said of the extent of his football conversations with Dayne.
And Young is taking it to heart as the leader of a Hawkeye running back group that is light on both numbers and experience.
Gone are seniors Akrum Wadley and James Butler. Sophomore Toks Akinribade’s future is unclear after he missed all last season and this spring’s practice sessions with an undisclosed medical condition.
Young, who gained 193 yards last season, has become the loudest voice in the room. His maturity is so impressive that his teammates voted him to be on this season’s 12-man leadership group. He is the lone sophomore.
“He’s just a model citizen that the guys look up to,” Iowa running backs coach Derrick Foster said of Young. “He’s done an awesome job of putting himself in front of everybody and making sure that he puts forth his best effort.”
Young said his fellow running backs joke that he’s “the old man” in the group. He’s 20.
But he’s trying to help lift a stable of running backs that includes sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin (184 rushing yards last season), redshirt freshman Kyshaun Bryan, true freshmen Henry Geil and Samson Evans, and the newcomer — sophomore Mekhi Sargent, who transferred from Iowa Western Community College.
Whoever gets the start in the Sept. 1 season opener versus Northern Illinois will be doing so for the first time.
“Guys get banged up all the time and we’re going to need as many guys as we can get in here,” said Young, who also leaves no doubt that he believes he can absorb the punishment of a full season as a workhorse back if need be.
That’s what he was at Monona Grove High School, where he carried the ball 333 times for 2,779 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior. That’s Ron Dayne territory.
Young arrived at Iowa looking like a grown man, meaning he hasn’t had to put on much weight. He’s 221 pounds now, at 5-foot-11.
Young reported that he’s gotten a little faster this summer. His times in the 10-yard sprint and shuttle drill are both better.
“I still have a lot to work on, though. My eyes, being patient, pass-blocking, route-running,” Young said.
“You’re always looking to improve in those things. The most important thing is how you play football, how you are as a teammate. But it helps to be fast out there. Especially in the Big Ten, it helps to be stronger. It helps to be able to jump and be athletic.”
It helps to have the confidence of your teammates, too.
Young said he was surprised to learn he had been selected to the Hawkeye leadership group.
“Sometimes you don’t realize who all is looking up to you and the respect that you have,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing the things that earned me that in the first place.”
In other words: Put his head down and keep running. Just like Ron Dayne.