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1-on-1 with Kenny Young: Interviewing the Ravens sophomore linebacker

“The Pursuit of Happiness” — How Kenny Young attacks opportunity

Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Whether meeting Leonard Fournette in the hole or not knowing if his family will be able to make ends meet, Kenny Young has never wavered. Moving around frequently throughout his childhood, Young’s parents struggled to find work, which caused stress and uncertainty routinely. Kenny eventually moved in with his best friend’s family in the suburbs of New Orleans.

Amidst a constant state of flux growing up, Kenny Young has always been a self described “neat freak” who stated in an interview with Ravens media specialist Cassie Calvert that, “If you see my apartment, not one thing is out of place, if there’s an ant on the floor, I have to kill it. I’m a perfectionist.”

Young’s attention to detail translated to the football field, where he led John Curtis Christian High School to back-to-back-to-back 3A championships. Young finished with 122 tackles, then was selected as a U.S. Army Bowl All-American, where he led the West with six tackles.

From the time my interview started with Young, he was articulate, confident and fun. It was no surprise considering he was on the Bruins debate team during his junior year at UCLA. Young also had one of his sociology papers published as an example for future students in the program. Plainly put, Young is sharp. That same mental processing Young listed as his greatest asset on the football field.

I asked Kenny if he felt his greatest asset on the field was his lateral quickness and speed. Kenny quickly retorted “No, I wouldn’t say that. I would definitely say my awareness and recognition are. Being able to to anticipate before things actually happen, that’s my greatest strength. That allows me to be sideline to sideline, I have to see it happen in my head before it happens.”

Kenny prides himself on his focus, will, and ‘want to’. Young credited those attributes for putting himself in such a successful position despite facing countless obstacles in life. Young made it out of a difficult situation in Louisiana and spent four years at UCLA, where he was a 2x All-Pac 12 selection. Young was the last UCLA player to wear Jackie Robinson’s famous No. 42 in any men’s sport. He certainly wore it well and he did Jackie justice, both as a man and as an athlete. Young accumulated 304 tackles, 22 TFL, 6.5 sacks and recorded a defensive touchdown on an interception.

Following his college career, Young lost his father, became a father, then moved from coast to coast to join the Ravens. Young managed to keep his goals first despite jumping 1,826 miles from New Orleans to Los Angeles, then another 2,661 miles from L.A. to Baltimore.

When I asked the Louisiana native how he has been able to put himself in such a successful position despite so many obstacles and a whirlwind of change, Young responded, “You change quickly. The main thing is discipline and focus and that’s the goal. With so much change going on, it was actually that times two as a kid, moving all over the place, so many things happening, so much family stuff going on. The main thing is the most important and that’s discipline and focus because I knew what I had. That remains the same today. Honestly, up to this point I’ve accomplished everything that I’ve wanted to goal wise, and to see that manifest brings a whole next level of confidence within myself.”

Kenny’s killer focus and discipline come from competitiveness, as it seemingly does from so many great athletes and leaders.

“I get it from want to. I wanted it more than anybody else in my family. They didn’t have all of the resources that we needed, but I think I got some of that focus and competitiveness from my dad, but I’ve always had that ‘want to’ within myself. I want to be a righteous person, I want to be do things that people can count on in life, be accountable and support the people in my life. That’s in whatever it is, being a father, my daughters going to need to count on me. Being a reliable person is important, and being accountable. Accountability is huge for me, focus and discipline as well, it’s about doing the right things all the time. Not just some of the time, all the time. If you practice that way in something, then you’ll become very, very good at it. That’s been the way for me so far and I don’t plan on changing it anytime soon.”

During training camp this year, Kyle Barber made an observation that stuck with me early in camp. Throughout camp, Chris Board and Kenny Young were constantly rotating and competing for defensive reps. If Kenny Young wasn’t in with the first team defense, he was no more than a foot from John Harbaugh. His helmet was always on. He was ready to go 100% of the time, and it was evident that Young craves to be on the field.

I asked Kenny about his attitude throughout camp in an open and somewhat publicized competition, “You always have to be ready. The greatest thing about opportunity is that you can always take advantage of it. You have to be ready to go, the game can be on the line and your number is called. That’s a part of who I am. I will always be ready to go.”

Young has received a great opportunity through four weeks, being on the field for 44% of defensive snaps so far. If you watch Young when he’s on the field, he’s constantly talking. He aligns the front, signals to the corners, then talks with Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas. Young’s preparation, communication and athleticism have led to an awesome start to his young career. When C.J. Mosley went down during the 2018-19 season, the rookie stepped in and had a ten-tackle performance against the Broncos.

Despite only playing over half of the team’s defensive snaps in just two games last season, Young managed to rack up 51 combined tackles, 7 QB hits, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. In comparison, starter C.J. Mosley recorded two quarterback hits, four tackles for loss and a half sack. Young’s play and potential allowed the Ravens to let Mosley walk away in free agency when his price tag grew too rich.

I asked Kenny an obvious question, what have been the biggest differences for you between year one and year two?

“Knowing what the hell the offense is doing. In the NFL there are so many route combinations and route combinations that happen on the other side of the ball. Between me, B. Carr, Judon, Tony, Earl, Peanut, we’re all just getting better together. communicating, understand each other, watching film and knowing where the other man should be, and where they might end up. Having Lamar take reps every day is also an advantage because I get to go against him.”

Through the first four games of the year, Young has played 44% of defensive snaps and recorded 13 total tackles, two QB hits, three tackles for loss and forced a fumble. The Ravens linebackers have been tested early, facing the Cardinals ‘Air Raid’ attack and Andy Reid’s aerial juggernaut in Kansas City. These fast-paced passing attacks have forced the Ravens to streamline communication early, which has been tough considering there are five new starters from last year and two games have been on the road.

When asked what the inside linebacker room is like, Young gave some insight, “I love it, man. I love those guys. I look forward to waking up and coming to work with them every day. Peanut and I were in a little bit of a competition last year so we know a lot about each other, and with him taking over the mike, there’s been this whole new energy about him. I love it.”

There have been a few bumps and bruises from the ILBs early, but I project this unit to grow exponentially throughout the season. By November and December expect the trio of Chris Board, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young to clicking on all cylinders and hitting opposing running backs like diesel trucks. Wink Martindale’s defense gives players a ton of freedom and relies on them to communicate and make decisions. This unit is younger than usual and also doesn’t have a ton of experience together yet. As they grow, expect great things from the ILB trio.

Quick Hitters:

Spencer: Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the following phrases or people ...

Spencer: “New Orleans”

KY: Food

SS: “Lil’ Wayne”



KY: Community

SS: “Myles Jack (Kenny’s LB teammate at UCLA)”

KY: Straight beast

UCLA v Virginia
Jack and Young in action for the Bruins

SS: “LeBron James”

KY: Another goat

SS: “DeShon Elliott”

KY: Rising Star

SS: “Wink Martindale”

KY: Players-first coach

SS: “Tony Jefferson”

KY: Team leader

SS: “John Harbaugh”

KY: THE goat

SS: “If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

KY: The Pursuit of Happiness

SS: “You’ve got style man, I’ll give it to you. Do you have a personal stylist or are you putting your own look together?”

KY: Well . . . let’s just say it’s a group effort.

SS: “Well your team is killing it. I saw you at Preakness and said to my buddy, “I might have to start calling you ranch, ‘cause you be dressing.”

KY: Oh, I like that, appreciate you!

SS: “In all of your time playing football, who’s the most difficult player you’ve had to tackle?”

KY: The only guy who has been a challenge is probably Leonard Fournette. We used to play against each other in high school, that was a big battle. He ran for like 225 yards, but I had 25 tackles the final game we played against them, though, so. . . but he’s definitely a beast and was coming out of high school.

SS: “If you were stuck on a deserted island, who is the first teammate you would want to be stuck with?”

KY: Probably Matthew Judon, I’d have to say. That’s my guy.

SS: “Who is the last?”

KY: I’d have to say Nick Boyle.

SS: “Nick Boyle? Why’s that?”

KY: Just because man... we’ve had to line up head-to-head a lot this year.

Side note— I found that particularly comical because I’ve been referring the Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst and Patrick Ricard as ‘The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.’ I assigned Nick Boyle to be ‘pestilence’ because his play style seems to annoy the heck out of defenders.

SS: “Have you, Peanut and Board thought of any nicknames yet?”

KY: No, not really. What you got?

SS: “Peanut Board and Jelly...”

KY: Because of the jelly!? Man that’s too funny ...

SS: “Just had to give you one cheesy dad joke before you get out of here”

KyY: We might have to use that one. . . we’ll see.

SS: “I don’t need credit for it, just remember who came up with it”

KY: I got you. . .

SS: “Was that hit you put on Gardner Minshew your favorite hit you’ve had so far in the NFL?”

KY: Probably. I don’t get clean looks like that too often and it kinda blew up, so yeah.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Kenny was a blast to conversate with. He is fun-loving, joyful and appreciative of life. I truly admire his work ethic, how he has created so much success despite enormous adversity in life. Young has done it all using his will from within. He’s a guy that young men should admire in both athletics and in life. He holds himself accountable and takes advantage of opportunity.

Terrell Suggs once described Kenny Young in a manner that really suited his play style during his rookie year, “I just like that he’s a young dog,” Suggs said. “When you have a young dog that can run like he can run and just go, everything else can be corrected. We like you if you can just go and run and go make plays and go wreak havoc. Everything else can be coached. We like that kind of dog in him.”

Well the dog is getting plenty of opportunity to learn this year, as he’s taken 41% of defensive snaps and that number looks to increase. The Ravens defense has been gashed in back to back games as they’ve fallen to 2-2, showing that they’re certainly a work in progress.

With the size, speed and athleticism No. 40 possesses, paired with outstanding work ethic, keep an eye on the bright young linebacker. Kenny Young is attacking this opportunity with everything he’s got.