At 6 feet, 5 inches, 250 pounds, it is difficult to think of West Jones High School junior defensive end Byron Young as any family’s baby.
But Young indeed is following in the football cleats of three elder brothers, Regrick, Kendrick and Brandon, at West Jones, and he very well could be the best of the bunch.
“He has a huge upside,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. “He’s only a junior, but he’s kind of become the leader of our team. He has three older brothers who all played for me, so I’ve been fortunate. But he’ll be the last one, the last son, but he’s probably the most talented because of his size.
“Did we see this coming? Yeah, because of the way he was raised, but he’s been blessed with a lot more talent than the other three.”
Young missed two years of sports after chipping off a piece of his kneecap, an injury that eventually required surgery. He only returned to the football last fall.
“This year, I’m more comfortable,” Young said. “When you first start out, the game is going really, really fast. Now, it’s starting to slow down a lot for me.
“But (last year), I was really enjoying it. I was ready to get back after missing two years. I was ready and happy to get back on the football field.”
And this year, Young and his fellow Mustangs are ready to get West Jones back to the field of Class 5A playoff teams.
The past two seasons, the Mustangs have finished 4-7 and 5-6. The 2016 season saw West Jones lose three games in the final 30 seconds, and Pierson said the largest task facing his coaching staff is rebuilding the Mustangs’ confidence.
“Right now, our problem is we haven’t made the playoffs, so we’re fighting between the ears,” Pierson said of the effects of the only two losing seasons in his 24-year coaching career, first at Bay Springs and the last 16 years at West Jones.
“That’s our biggest problem right now, wanting to win instead of expecting to win. For years, we expected to win, and I would say over the last two years, that mentality has kind of changed. That’s what we’re working on right now, realizing that you’re good enough to win, expecting to win instead of just hoping and holding on, where if you have bad things happen to you, it’s like, ‘Well, here we go again.’”
West Jones very well could have the players to get the job done.
Senior quarterback Peyton Brown, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game, returns and will duel with his replacement, junior starting quarterback Hunter Parish for the starting job.
Parish played all 11 games last season after Brown’s injury, starting the final 10.
“He’s seasoned,” Pierson said.
The Mustangs saw the graduation of their big bull-of-a-back, John Oliver, but senior Austin Land and sophomore Michael Neal returns at running back, with senior K.D. Hatten also expected to share carries.
Leading receiver, senior Garrick Randolph, heads a veteran pass-catching corps, one that also includes Hatten and junior Evan Pitts, as well as junior tight end Jared Knotts.
The offensive line returns a trio of starters, including senior center Jacob Kilpatrick and senior guards Wesley Jones and Fabian Pickering.
The Mustangs lost defensive line standout Lamarcus Keyes and both starting safeties, but return eight of 11 starters on defense.
Young and fellow junior Joe Micah Coleman return as defensive ends, with junior Damian Cunningham and senior Quan Shelby inside at tackles.
Junior Sley Lyon returns at outside linebacker, with sophomore Jaylon Keyes and senior Davion Moore returning at inside linebacker.
Sophomore Cedric Bender and senior Maurice Pruitt return as starting cornerbacks.
Though he’s only played one season with two more to go at West Jones, Young already has drawn attention, drawing a bushel of scholarship offers. Pierson said recruiting services already have rated Young a four-out-of-five stars prospect and the 17th-rated defensive end nationally.
“Great mom and dad, 4.0 (grade-point average),” Pierson said. “He’s different.”
Young said he has picked up tips from his older brothers, two who played defensive end, the other tight end, and that they have helped him get to where he is now.
“They’re always pushing me when I go work out with them,” Young said. “They make me do everything, and even more and beyond what I think I can do.”
“They give me a hard time, but I know they love me. I know everything they do is to help me.”
And along with his three brothers and parents, Young has the love and support of his older sister as well.
“She may be the best athlete in the family,” Pierson said.