'He really wants this one': Iowa's Toren Young hoping for chance to shine in Madison homecoming
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tianna Parkinson has taken charge of the organizational duties amid what is an exhilarating family stretch. It’s her birthday this week. And her son is coming to visit.
Toren Young still returns home every so often, but this check-in isn’t your average hello. Camp Randall Stadium, and the Badger red that engulfs Madison, Wisconsin, can be a treacherous scene for those donning Iowa colors. But to Young, it’s just another day in the neighborhood.
Saturday — in front of an extensive cheering contingency that’ll include Parkinson, family members, friends, coaches and more — the Hawkeyes running back gets a chance to shine on home turf turned enemy territory.
“As of right now, I think there’s about 25 to 30 people coming,” Young said this week. “There are a lot of people who’ve helped me get to where I am today who don’t always get to make the trip to Iowa. To be able to come home and play in front of them is very exciting.
“… My mom has been the one coordinating everything and getting names (for the game) and things like that. I appreciate her.”
This ranked showdown — Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) at No. 18 and Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) two spots higher — isn’t Young’s first venture as a Madison visitor, but it will be as a contributing piece.
In 2017, the Monona Grove graduate had three garbage-time touches as a little-used freshman stuck behind Akrum Wadley and James Butler. It was an unceremonious ending to a forgettable day in Madison, as Wisconsin throttled Iowa, 38-14.
Things have improved significantly since. Young, now a junior, may not be Iowa’s lead back in what is a true three-man platoon. But offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s weekly gameplan features the bruising ball carrier in some capacity. While Mekhi Sargent and Tyler Goodson have garnered the most backfield headlines, Young has shown dominant flashes at times.
“Toren’s totally locked in, and he’s doing everything he can to be ready to play,” said quarterback Nate Stanley, another Wisconsin native. “Toren’s done a great job all year, but you can definitely tell his intensity and energy has increased and that he’s 100 percent locked in.”
Kirk Ferentz has seen this drill before. A few recent examples include Amani Hooker’s return to Minneapolis and Akrum Wadley’s New Jersey homecoming. Throwback memories feature Pennsylvania natives Ed Hinkel and Jovon Johnson coming up big at Penn State.
In situations like this, embracing the moment while limiting distractions stand as top priorities.
“Sometimes, players will try to do too much when they're at home,” Ferentz said. “But … I'm thinking positive thoughts about like maybe Toren just knifing through there for a 50-yard gain or something like that. Hopefully, it'll give him a little juice and a little impetus to be successful out there. But you worry about guys pressing too hard sometimes.”
A lifelong Madison native until trekking to Iowa City, Young lived and attended high school within 15 minutes of the Wisconsin campus. Although there wasn’t a diehard Badger fixation as a youth, Young latched onto plenty of Wisconsin running backs through the years. There were a few Camp Randall trips as well.
The Badgers never seriously came calling in the recruiting process. Young took unofficial visits and attended Wisconsin’s camp as a junior. Yet, Iowa was Young’s only offer when he became the Hawkeyes’ first 2016 commit in January 2015.
“As I got older and my dreams of playing college football became more of a reality, I knew there were going to be a lot of different opportunities at different places,” Young said. “Also, just growing up in Madison all my life, the thought of going somewhere new and experiencing new things was exciting for me.
“… Wisconsin recruited me but not too heavily. When I came and visited Iowa, I fell in love with it and felt like it was a great fit. Took so many visits here, and it felt like home. I’m happy with where I’m at.”
Parkinson and the Young brigade are too. Ticket requests are submitted and approved. Saturday’s itinerary is finalized. Even those coming who bleed Badger red will holler with joy if No. 28 gets rolling.
“With Toren,” wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said, “he really wants this one. He tells us all the time that this means a lot."
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.