A year ago, Louis Young did not travel with Georgia Tech for the Sun Bowl, having to sit the game out with an NCAA suspension. The Yellow Jackets lost to Utah in overtime in a game that the cornerback could well have made a difference.
This season, Tech is back in the Sun Bowl, arriving Wednesday in El Paso, Texas, to play USC Dec. 31. This time, Young is with the Jackets.
“I guess it’s just fate,” Young said. “I guess it’s bittersweet thinking about last year, but the good thing about it is I feel like, just me being here this year, I can contribute in a major way and help us get that win.”
Young’s trip through the calendar pretty much hit for the cycle of college athlete woe, some of it self-inflicted – NCAA suspension, injuries, the firing of the coach who recruited him and poor play on the field. On top of that, the Jackets failed to live up to the expectations they held for themselves. They reached the ACC Championship game but will face the Trojans with a 6-7 record. In particular, the defense has been exploited repeatedly, allowing 40-plus points six times.
Young, who was dependable as a sophomore starter in 2011, has played a role in the ineffective play. In particular, Young has tackled poorly and hasn’t been nearly the playmaking presence he was last year. In 12 starts in 2011, he had 52 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception and five pass breakups. This year, in 11 games and eight starts, he has 28 tackles, no tackles for loss, one interception and one pass breakup.
“I’d say it wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” he said.
Young sounds like he spent the entire year in a cloud. He ran afoul of NCAA rules for selling his tickets to the 2011 Georgia game. Young sold them to a friend, thinking that the NCAA only prohibited athletes from selling tickets to boosters, agents and the like. After being kept home for the Sun Bowl, he practiced through the spring and trained in the summer with the remainder of the two-game suspension hanging over his head.
To fulfill the penalty, he sat out the season opener against Virginia Tech, another overtime loss. Prior to that, Young broke his thumb in preseason practice. In the Miami game, he dislocated his shoulder. He has played the season managing both injuries.
“When healthy, I’ve been able to make stuff happen, but it’s not the season I wanted,” Young said.
After the sixth game, defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired. Young had been recruited by Groh out of Good Counsel High in Maryland since Groh was head coach at Virginia. He considered him a father figure.
To interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, also Young’s position coach, his on-field struggles began off the field. Missing two games, one due to the suspension and the other because of the shoulder injury, disrupted Young’s preparation and mindset. He said Young’s fundamentals deteriorated and he then began to press.
“You get in structure, it seems like things fall in line,” Kelly said. “When something happens like this, it kind of gets you out of your schedule.”
Young, though, said he feels the healthiest he has felt all season. Kelly has seen him return to the fundamentals of his position and, correspondingly, Young has had his two best weeks of practice of the season.
“I’m hitting with my shoulder, I’m not hesitant,” Young said. “Back to my old ways.”
Tech will need Young at peak form in the Sun Bowl. USC will attack the Jackets with wide receiver Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and perhaps the best player Tech will have seen all season. At the other wide receiver spot, Robert Woods is another pro prospect. Young sees the opportunity to make amends, bury the mess of 2012 and get a head start on his senior season.
“A lot of people say I fought through what I had to fight through,” Young said. “I’m really going to make my mark in this game and cap a rough season off.”
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog