Perhaps it's understandable why Tennessee outside linebacker Byron Young has earned rave reviews this spring since arriving from Georgia Military College.
He just needed to get his foot in the door.
"I've shown that I can fight through a lot of adversity," Young said Wednesday night. "I'm really driven right now."
Young is 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, and he is also 23 years old, making him the oldest newcomer on Josh Heupel's roster. He played at Carvers Bay High School in Hemingway, South Carolina, but did not have the necessary academics to attain a college scholarship, so he moved to Columbus, Georgia, and began working at a Dollar General Store.
For a year and a half, Young aided customers and stocked shelves and became an assistant manager, but football was his love, and he decided to give it another go at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville.
"That was an experience, honestly, because it was a military school," Young said. "It really taught me how to be responsible and taught me accountability and stuff like that. The toughest part was having to wake up early in the morning — like 5 in the morning — and get in uniform and dealing with inspection every day.
"When you get used to it and you really want it, you'll kind of adjust to it."
Young had a stellar season at GMC in 2019, racking up 31 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 11 games, yet the outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020 clouded his scholarship opportunities at a big-time school. There would be no 2020 season at GMC, a proud two-year program that has produced the likes of former Georgia linebacker Odell Thurman and former Florida tackle Trent Brown, and colleges were having to be a bit more cautious and choosy given that campus visits by prospects were not allowed.
In late October, the desired offers finally started rolling in — Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee — with the Volunteers being the first Southeastern Conference school to offer. Young signed with the Vols in December but then had to adjust to the firing of Jeremy Pruitt and the hiring of Heupel in January, as well as the new defensive assistants headed by coordinator Tim Banks.
"Getting used to the new staff was pretty easy," Young said. "I kind of already knew Coach Heup from UCF, and I knew Coach (Rodney) Garner from Auburn. I didn't know Coach Banks too well, but I love the system that he's brought in. I think it fits me well.
"They have me playing like a true outside linebacker, as in covering and stuff like that, and I can really use my speed on a lot of the plays."
Young credits sophomore defensive end/outside linebacker Tyler Baron and fifth-year senior defensive tackle Matthew Butler for taking him under their wings, and his motivation has been evident from the start.
"I have been playing on the edge quite a bit, and the new guy, Byron Young, has done a really good job," senior offensive lineman Cade Mays said last week. "He comes to practice every day with the right mentality and with a lot of juice, and he is a guy who just got here. He is playing football the right way and is taking coaching the right way.
"He is taking all of that in, and he is going to be a very special player here one day."
KaTron Evans, a four-star defensive tackle who signed with Tennessee in December, has been granted a release from his national letter of intent. The 6-4, 320-pounder from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore committed to the Vols last May and becomes the fourth signee of the 2021 cycle to receive his release, joining linebacker Dylan Brooks (now at Auburn), running back Cody Brown (Miami) and offensive lineman J'Marion Gooch (Missouri).
Tennessee will stage Saturday's Orange & White game without its top five December signees, with Brooks, Brown and Evans having left and with linebacker Aaron Willis and quarterback Kaidon Salter currently suspended.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.