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By LARRY VAUGHT
Just a few days after Kentucky offered a scholarship to seventh-grader Jairus Brent of Indiana, the Wildcats now have a verbal commitment from sophomore linemen Landon Young of Lexington.
The 6-7, 250-pound Young is a three-sport standout at Lafayette — he was second in the heavyweight division at the state wrestling tournament and in the top four in the discus and shot put both in track — and decided Friday he would go ahead and give his verbal commitment to UK coach Mark Stoops.
Former UK standout Dennis Johnson of Harrodsburg was Young’s middle school coach, and knew immediately he was special.
“He’s a great kid, a really smart kid. He’s also a phenomenal athlete,” said Johnson. “We did a 7-on-7 last year at Kentucky and I took him over to meet (then UK coach) Joker Phillips and told those guys they better get on him.”
Johnson, a three-sport standout himself, didn’t commit to UK until signing day of his senior year. However, he sees nothing wrong with Young committing so early.
“I think he is a Kentucky kid who wants to play at Kentucky, so why wait,” Johnson said. “He is a home-body, kind of like me. I think it is good for him to get it out of the way if he was able to know this is what he wanted and he says this is what he wanted.”
Young said Stoops and offensive line coach John Schlarman told him they like his “size, heart and drive” after watching him compete against elite recruits at UK’s camp last week. He got the scholarship offer on the camp’s second day and came back to campus Friday to make his commitment to Stoops.
“Growing up in Lexington, I was a pretty big Kentucky fan since I was little,” Young said. “Kentucky was always on the top of my list of colleges to attend because of SEC football and track. I knew I wanted attention from them and occasionally they talked to me. I knew I wanted to give them a look and see if they would offer. When they did, I knew then I wanted to zone in and commit.”
Young believes his three-sport status was something Stoops liked because it showed his competitiveness.
“He’s a mauler, a hard worker. He’s young, but aggressive,” Johnson said. “He works his tail off consistently. He loves competition. He went to the Junior National Olympics (in track) and is ranked nationally in his age group in the discus.”
Johnson told Young’s father in middle school that he would be “harder” on him because he was more talented than other players, not to mention bigger.
“I pushed him hard. He is a great kid and took it well,” Johnson said. “He started for Lafayette as a freshman. He went to a combine and did well. His best sport could be track. He’s just special.”
Young did not know much about Johnson when he took over as Jessie Clark Middle School coach. But Young’s father knew about Johnson’s high school, college and NFL career and the player researched him to find out more about him.
“When a coach is there yelling and pushing you as hard as he can, you are going to hate him for what he’s doing,” Young said. “But when we would get into games and I wouldn’t be winded, I had to thank him for pushing me like I did. He taught me a lot I need to know. He gave me helpful tips and advice for football and life.”
Even though he didn’t play offense full time last year, his offensive line coach at Lafayette was Jason Dunn, another former Harrodsburg star and long-time NFL tight end.
“He was a good role model, too. He was fine tuning what I need and helped make me better,” Young said.
Johnson expects Young to be an offensive lineman at UK and that’s what both Stoops and Schlarman told Young when he committed.
“I don’t mind where I play, but coach Schlarman pretty much has me at offensive tackle. Because of my height, he says I will not play defense unless I am another Too Tall Jones (a former NFL star with the Dallas Cowboys).”
Young has no other scholarship offers — because of track he’s not attended any other football camps this summer and likely will not except for one at UK.
“Next year I will be expanding and going into other states for football camps, but this year I am pretty busy with track,” Young said.
He will “look around” at other schools in the years ahead only to make sure Kentucky is “absolutely” right for him.
“I know things could happen, but my mindset is to stay with Kentucky. I want to still see other coaches and see what they offer, but I am planning on sticking firm to Kentucky,” Young said. “Coach Stoops told me to make sure I feel comfortable about what college I am going to. He told me not to rush and be sure Kentucky is right. But I love Kentucky.”
Young and his parents talked to Stoops and Schlarman about possibly being able to join the UK track team as well, a move Stoops endorsed.
“He said track and football work well together,” Young said. “So I might get the opportunity to do both at Kentucky.”