He finished the year as the leader in both categories for the Wolfpack, despite not starting until the fifth game of the season.
This year Willie Young figures to be penciled in at one defensive end spot, and in case you were wondering if he plans on wreaking even more havoc in the backfield this year, his answer is brief, but emphatic.
“Oh hell yeah,” Young said. “Oh yeah.”
At last year’s halfway point, the Pack was 1-5 and desperate for answers at nearly every position on the field. After a midseason meeting with the rest of the defensive line unit, things finally started to click for Young.
Earlier in the year, Young said neither he nor the rest of the unit had enough understanding of the new coach’s system to be able to make the proper in-game adjustments.
“It was just a good understanding and being able to fit into the defense that was being called,” said Young. “It was a big adjustment [to the new coaching style] and about midseason we sat down and discussed what we were doing wrong and came up with the best way that we can come together as a unit.”
Along with Young, the other projected starters along the defensive line are Alan-Michael Cash, Markus Kuhn and Antoine Holmes. With the learning curve all but over, Young sees this year being a different story for him and the rest of the unit.
“A couple of guys and I were talking the other day about how impressed we were with the overall team’s morale right now,” Young said. “You can see the difference in the attitude. It’s outstanding right now. We’re just trying to get better every day in practice.”
Defensive improvement up front would be a welcomed sight to State fans who watched seven of last year’s opponents rush for over 200 yards on the Pack. Defensive line coach Keith Willis is continuing to work with Young and the others to change the porous nature of last year’s run defense.
“Coach Willis, he’s a tough guy," said Young. "I don’t know what to say about that dude. He’s the prototype defensive line coach that we need here. We’ve got a couple of errors and stuff that we’re still working on that we’re trying to get right.
“We just try to push through it. We can’t slack off – any loaf, half-stepping or nonchalant effort, we’ll know about it at the end of practice.”
When Tom O’Brien was first hired as the new head man at State, Young’s reaction was priceless. Recalling his days at Hargrave Military Academy and learning of O’Brien’s Marine background, Young said, "Oh Lord."
Young admitted last season that it took awhile to get used to O’Brien, but he kept working in practice until he wrestled a starting spot away from senior Littleton Wright.
“It was just a continuation of hard work and dedication, staying focused on my goal, knowing I wanted to [start] and willing the best opportunity for myself.”
This year will mark Young’s fourth at the school. Although he’s one of the most vocal players on the team, Young said he’s focused more on leading by example. If he is ready to break out for more numbers like his 38 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, his example would be a good one to follow.
“Last year we had a bunch of young guys, and this year we have a bunch of young guys we’re working on. We’re just trying to wing it out and lead by example right now,” he stated. “The returning starter with me is Alan-Michael Cash. Between me and him, I figure we can pull that defensive line together. You know everything starts up front and we’re hoping to make the best of that.”