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The making of Chase Young: How an athletic freak at Ohio State became the best player in the NFL Draft

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Does Ohio State defensive end Chase Young deserve the two-word label used to describe the best of the best ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft?
The phrase "generational talent" is not used lightly, after all.
"When I say that, it's almost like people feel like it's a slap in the face to what Ohio State's done," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on a recent conference call. "Because when you look at the Bosa brothers and how good they are, he's in the group with those guys.
"I do want to clarify that. (Young) is the best player in this draft class."
It is not a slap in the face to Joey and Nick Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and No. 2 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, respectively. It's more of a nod to the incredible athleticism Young possesses. The labels are easy to attach to his name.
The complete freak.
A total beast.
The Predator.
The sources of the descriptors Young earned during his career with the Buckeyes will be showcased when he participates in drills at Ohio State's Pro Day on March 25. But the show Young puts on will only reinforce what those closest to him already know.
A "generational talent" is not just born. It must be cultivated.
Sporting News recently spoke with those who watched Young's career arc from DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., to Ohio State to find out how his greatness was refined.
NFL MOCK DRAFT 2020: Young lands in NFC East

'We knew he was a big-time player' 

Young shot up from 5-6 in middle school to his current 6-5 frame in high school. He transferred to DeMatha after his sophomore year. Then-DeMatha coach Elijah Brooks, now the running backs coach at Maryland, told Sporting News that Young's first game as a junior — a nationally televised game on ESPN against Miami Central on Aug. 29, 2015 — was the launch point.
Elijah Brooks: "That whole week we would just continue to emphasize that Miami Central is a national power, their players are tougher than ours and just different things to motivate him. He had his 'coming out' in that game. He had four or five sacks; two or three forced fumbles. We were just amazed at how well he played under the bright lights.
"That's when we knew he was a big-time player."
Young had eight tackles and three solo sacks in that dominant performance, which began his five-star recruiting profile.
At that time, however, Young was known more for his size than for his ability.
Brooks: "It wasn't that he was an exceptional athlete. He had decent speed and decent athleticism, but he always just felt he was faster than everybody.
"That is what translated. If you lined him up against some of the other defensive linemen; we had faster guys, and guys who might have been a tad quicker — but when it came to competing, that is where he shined. You almost have to throw the measurables out the window."
Those measurables were still good for 24/7 Sports' No. 7 overall player in the class of 2017. Jeremy Birmingham, a recruiting analyst for Lettermen Row, was among those who saw the combination of size and athleticism that would translate with the Buckeyes.
Jeremy Birmingham: "The thing about five-star prospects is that the expectations are so high that even a guy that's a 'can't-miss' feels like a disappointment if they don't immediately light the world on fire. Chase was a different animal than a number of defensive end prospects because it was clear that his frame was not even close to filled out, but his athleticism was just different. He was long, quick, strong."
Young enjoyed a senior high school season with 118 tackles, 19 sacks and 37 tackles for loss on a 12-0 team that won the 2016 state championship.
Birmingham: "Putting him into the hands of guys like (Ohio State strength coach) Mickey Marotti and (defensive line coach) Larry Johnson, it was obvious what the end result should be."

'From Day 1 he was a first-round pick'

Tim May worked the Ohio State beat from 1984-2018 with the Columbus Dispatch and is now a contributor at Lettermen Row. He rattled off the list of great defensive players he has covered without hesitation to include Young.
Tim May: "Young fits into that group for sure, but with Chris Spielman, Dan Wilkinson, Mike Vrabel, Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Andy Katzenmoyer, Mike Doss, Matt Wilhelm, Will Smith, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis, all those DBs of the Urban Meyer era, the Bosa brothers. I mean, it's a long list."
Former Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter, a radio host on 97.1 FM in Columbus and a contributor on ESPN's "Get Up," played with several of those players. He recalled his first Young encounter at a practice before the 2017 season.
Bobby Carpenter: "I was talking to my friend who is a scout, and he said, 'Who is that guy?' I said, 'That must be a grad transfer.' No, it was Chase Young his freshman year. His size, his speed and athleticism at 18 years old was unparalleled. From Day 1 he was a first-round draft pick, even if he chose to do nothing.
"I told him, 'If you choose to work, you will be an elite guy, a top-five guy.' It speaks to his character and his drive. He chose to work."
That work started with Johnson, the renowned defensive line coach who worked with first-round picks Courtney Brown and Tamba Hali at Penn State before the Bosa brothers at Ohio State. In Young, Johnson saw a different kind of pass-rusher from the start.
Larry Johnson: "He came in as a slim 6-5, 225-pound guy, and he actually moved different. He looked like an NFL outside linebacker, and his basketball background helped with that. You saw those little things early on that you knew he was going to be athletic, be able to change direction, bend and run. It was just a matter of getting stronger. That's what happened with Chase."
Johnson saw the potential, but Ohio State is perpetually flush with five-star defensive talent. Young's transformation would not happen overnight.
Johnson: "The biggest thing is convincing guys, 'This is the best technique. This is what you should do.' Most guys come and say, 'I did this in high school, and it worked for me.' Well it did, and you did it pretty easy, but here you are going to face better people."
Even Young had to learn that lesson at Ohio State.

'The proverbial light came on'

Young recorded 3 1/2 sacks as a freshman. Through three games as a sophomore, he had produced six tackles and two sacks — modest totals on a defense that was giving up too many big plays by the Buckeyes' standards. That was before Young's breakout performance on Sept. 29, 2018 against Penn State.
Young was dealing with an ankle injury, but he still registered two sacks. With 1:22 remaining on the clock, Penn State trailed 27-26 and faced a fourth-and-5 from the Ohio State 45-yard line. Young shot inside on a stunt and stuffed running back Miles Sanders for the game-winning stop.
It was not quite the Miami Central game, but it was the turning point in Young's career with the Buckeyes.
May: "The tackle on an inside zone run play on fourth-and-5 at Penn State in 2018 was a walk-off moment that proved Chase Young is not just a pass-rusher — it proved that he can play on an elite level, even in pain."
Birmingham: "The proverbial light came on when it came to what had to be done to be great. He went from the most talented guy on the team to one of the hardest workers on the team. Maybe that was Nick Bosa's injury (before the Purdue game), maybe it was seeing how he could single-handedly change a game like he did at Penn State in 2018, but something changed in his mind. He stopped accepting just being just a good football player and became a better leader and teammate."
Young finished the 2018 season with 9 1/2 sacks, including a three-sack performance in Ohio State's Big Ten championship game victory over Northwestern. Johnson saw it coming once the pass-rusher had mastered the right technique.
Johnson: "We knew that once he learned how to bend. Anybody can bend, but how to bend to get to the quarterback is the key. How to get your inside foot driving at the quarterback and turn your hips at the same time. That's the paramount of a great pass rusher, and he learned that."

'He allows himself to be coached'

Jeff Hafley joined Ohio State's staff after the 2018 season as co-defensive coordinator, and he witnessed the transformation as Young entered his junior year.
Jeff Hafley: "It starts with Mick in the weight room. That strength staff is incredible the way they developed him and changed his body. If you look when he came in and even before that last season, his body changed. That's a credit to Chase and how he eats and takes care of his body. Physically, his development, between himself and Mick, was incredible."
Carpenter: "He allows himself to be coached. Mickey Marotti grinds on those guys as hard as anybody, and with so many elite guys now, you see it with the AAU culture guys that they don't want to be coached. He would let Mick push him and go with it."
Hafley: "Combine that with Larry Johnson's teaching and his flexibility, get-off and hand speed, and they continue to develop him. It is impressive."
Johnson: "He has a tall trunk and he's a long 6-6 guy. Most guys that are 6-6 shouldn't be able to bend that low to the ground because you have so far to go. That's where that flexibility comes in."
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The came the enhancements from the film room.
Johnson: "One of my coaches, Kenny Anunike, made a cut-up of all of his rushes, and we categorized them by his techs in his tool-box. When you watch them it was like, 'Well, there it is.' That's why he is so successful. It is because everything he did is something he learned, and he didn't have to make it up. That's what's special about him. That's what's going to help him at the next level."
Young emerged for his junior season with a 6-5, 265-pound frame and long dreadlocks that evoked comparisons to the villain in a timeless 1987 action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"The Predator" was ready to terrorize college football.
Brooks: "He was always extremely talented, but you could see he really worked on his craft during his time at Ohio State. He worked on his body, and it translated on the field."

'He just completely wrecked it'

Young piled up 9 1/2 sacks through Ohio State's first seven games in 2019, but it was a matchup against No. 13 Wisconsin on Oct. 6 in which his Heisman Trophy-caliber campaign peaked in another nationally televised game. It all started when whiffed on Badgers quarterback Jack Coan early in the game.
Johnson: "He over-ran it and ran by him, and he came to the sideline. Chase is a real cerebral guy. He sits on the bench and looks at me. I knew exactly what he was thinking. He said, 'It ain't going to happen again, coach. It ain't going to happen again, coach. It ain't going to happen.' He was mad. I said, 'Just calm down and keep doing what you're doing, and without a blink in his eye he said, 'I got this.'
"I laughed because I knew exactly what was going to happen."
Young finished the game with a school-record four sacks. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, also a Heisman candidate, managed just 52 yards rushing. Ohio State won 38-7.
Hafley: "It made it easy. It allows you to stay very basic and very simple. You don't have to pressure or dial things up. You are safe and sound on the back end. It makes life very easy."
Johnson: "He went into a zone Then you saw a look in his eyes, it was like a little kid, 'I can do this.' That was really a great moment."
Hafley: "He just looked completely unblockable in the game against a really good offensive line. That's the game — they were ranked really high coming in and they had a back who was up for the Heisman and  were contenders for the Big Ten West — he single handedly dominated the entire game like I have not seen a defensive lineman do. He just completely wrecked it."
Johnson: "The 4 sacks really set him apart from most pass-rushers. They weren't just sacks. They were strip sacks. They were sacks that changed the course of the game. When you have a player that can change the game in one play, that's what make him so different. It's one of the best performances I've seen at defensive end since I've been in coaching."
May: "It was his masterpiece, a one-man tour de force that reinforced the notion he could be the No. 1 pick in the draft and that he belonged in the discussion, Heisman-wise, as the best overall player in the nation."
Brooks watched that game in preparation for Maryland's Nov. 9 matchup with Ohio State. Young's high school coach understood the challenge ahead of the Terrapins. 
Brooks: "On game days, he turns into almost like a superhuman. Trying to add additional help in the blocking scheme or trying to run away from him or all those things look good on paper, but until you see him in person, you can't get a real assessment of what he can do." 
Of course, Young did not get the opportunity to play against Maryland that season.

'Chase just wanted to play' 

Young was suspended the day before the Maryland game for accepting a loan, an NCAA-imposed punishment that effectively ended Heisman bid. He missed two games.
A situation that could have been perceived as a flaw on Young's resume, however, revealed itself as a strength.
Johnson: "He could have said, 'You know what, I'm done. You don't have to worry about the suspension because I'm going to the NFL.' Everybody would say, 'OK, you made a great decision.' Because he loved his teammates so much and felt like he let them down, that never crossed his mind. There was never a conversation about, 'I'm going, coach.' He said, 'No matter what happens I'm going to stand strong, be a man and come back and play for the Buckeyes.' As a coach and knowing Chase really well, that says a lot about him as a person."
Carpenter: "I talked to (Ohio State athletic director) Gene (Smith) and (Ohio State coach) Ryan (Day), and they weren't even going to really push to get this suspension reduced from four (games) to two unless he wanted to continue playing. And in an era where we talk about guys looking out for themselves and protecting their money, Chase just wanted to play with his guys. As an alumnus, when you see that, it means something."
Young recorded three sacks in his return against Penn State on Nov. 23, but he failed to produce a sack through Ohio State's final three games — wins against Michigan and Wisconsin (Big Ten championship game) before its loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.
Carpenter: "Wisconsin and Penn State back to back, he had seven sacks in those games. He was terrific, obviously, and everyone wonders, 'Did he disappear against Michigan? Did he disappear against Wisconsin or Clemson?' The fact he was able to garner the type of double- and triple-teams showed how he was playing. Even in the first game with Wisconsin they tried to chip him with a back. They just didn't do it very well. He never complained about it."
Young finished fourth in Heisman voting, the highest by an Ohio State defensive player since Hawk finished sixth in 2005. Spielman also finished sixth in 1987.

'He can transcend the game fast' 

Young chose not to work out at the NFL Combine, so until Ohio State's pro day, everyone will continue to see teases of his athleticism on social media.
Carpenter: "You talk about Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett and Julius Peppers. Bill Parcells called it the 'Walking the Earth' theory. There are not too many people like that walking the Earth. He is in that select few with those guys, and I think he is as high-character as any of those guys, if not even better."
Johnson sees young making the same impact at the next level as the Bosa brothers, and it is not just about athletic ability.
Johnson: "You don't get to be elite unless you have a real high football IQ. You have to have a great football IQ. That's the difference between those three guys. They understand the game. They understand how to attack people. When you can do that, that to me is the essential part of being a great defensive end. Chase has the ability to do that. That's what I admire about him. He can transcend the game fast."
But that athletic ability also makes a difference, even over the Bosa brothers.
May: "What sets him apart from the Bosa brothers is his pure athletic ability. The NFL Combine is like the Olympic decathlon for a player such as Young. But as the Bosas have proven, and so has Young, is the almost immeasurable desire to get to the quarterback no matter what. It's what puts them on the same shelf — the top shelf — of don't let-'em-slide prospects."
Jeremiah: "I actually had a little bit higher grade on Nick coming out than Chase. I had a higher grade on Chase than Joey. Obviously, Joey has been a perennial Pro Bowl player; he's outstanding. He's one of those type guys. And the impact he has, not only is he — he's going to win his one-on-ones when he gets them, but he's going to create so many double- and triple-teams his way it's going to be able to let the other guys eat a little bit."
Whether Young's status as a generational talent will be enough to make him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft remains to be seen. But if we have learned anything from his high school years to the present day, wherever and whenever he is selected, another signature performance at the next level will not be far behind.
Brooks: "He played on the same team as Markelle Fultz at DeMatha. When Fultz got drafted No. 1 in the NBA Draft a few years ago, I texted (Young) and said, 'Hey, DeMatha has never had a No. 1 football draft pick.' He said, 'That's going to be my goal.'
"Whether it happens or not is one thing. He set his life on trying to compete again. That is just the type of guy he is. If you want the best out of him, have him compete and set a goal. He's going to accomplish it."
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