Iowa senior Devonte Young recalls his first game and explains why he switched to defense. Listen: Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Devonte Young had every reason to leave the Iowa football team.
No one would have blamed him for searching for more playing time elsewhere. Or for wanting to get back closer to his Maryland home.
Instead, Young will run out to greet his parents, Angela and Jude, on the Kinnick Stadium turf before No. 20 Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten Conference) faces Illinois (6-4, 4-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday. It’s another Senior Day for the Hawkeyes, and none have made a more quietly significant impact than Young.
“My dad always taught me loyalty, and once you commit to something, go through it all the way,” Young said. “I have a couple of brothers that were in the Army and Air Force and Marines. They committed to do what they had to do, so I committed to the Hawkeyes. So I was going to be here for this four years no matter what.”
Jude Young is a police officer in Washington, D.C. Devonte’s older brother Maurice is still in the service. His twin brother Trevonte just finished his stint with the Marines and got to see Devonte play at Kinnick for the first time earlier this season.
Devonte Young took a different path, but still felt that pull of dedication.
He was recruited out of North Point High School in Waldorf, Maryland, as a wide receiver. And that’s what he was his first two seasons as a Hawkeye. Young played in all but one game as a true freshman, but was used exclusively on special teams and as a blocking wide receiver. He didn’t catch a single pass.
The same held true in his sophomore season.
In his junior year, he was part of the kickoff return team, and ran back three of them for 64 yards. It was the only time he got his hands on the football in three seasons, although he was credited with four tackles on special teams.
In the middle of his junior year, Young was asked to switch to safety, a position he had also played in high school. The Hawkeyes were short on depth there.
Young never hesitated.
“I was just like, ‘OK, I’m ready to do whatever you guys need me to do,’” he said.
He’s continued to be a leader on the special teams unit as a senior, recording six tackles. His biggest play came against Iowa State in September, when he hustled downfield to recover a fumbled punt that sealed the Hawkeyes’ 18-17 win.
Behind the scenes, Young volunteered to play wide receiver on Iowa’s scout team, where coach Kirk Ferentz said he provides a great challenge for the starting defensive backs.
Ferentz went out of his way to praise Young on Tuesday in the opening remarks at his weekly news conference.
“He unselfishly moved over to the defense but really has carved out his niche. He is doing a great job on special teams,” Ferentz said. “He's one of our core special teams guys, and also does a great job on the look team for our defense, running routes. He's been doing a great job of that all season long.”
Said Young: “I’m trying to make sure they’re at their best. I’m not out there playing around and slacking off. I’m trying to give them the best look there can be so they can be ready for the game.”
Young is majoring in interdepartmental business studies. It’s a degree with built-in flexibility, so he can go in to marketing, finance or sales. But he said he’s not thinking about his future yet.
“I’m just thinking about having a good practice,” he said, “focused on the team that’s ahead of us.”
On Saturday, that’s Illinois. Then it’s a Black Friday game at Nebraska and one final bowl game for Young and 18 other Hawkeye seniors.
Young summed up his career, and this senior class, well.
“I feel as if I found my role. Anything coach wants me to do, I’ll do it,” Young said.
“Because it’s not about one player. It’s about a team.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.