When the Detroit Lions called defensive end Willie Young to tell him they were going to take him with the 213th-overall selection, he was overcome with emotion.
“I’m a little emotional right now,” he said. “I’m glad that Coach finally took me off the board.”
It’s been quite the journey for Young. It has been a dream of his to play in the NFL and he saw a collegiate career as a means to that end.
That collegiate career hit a bump, though, when he didn’t meet the NCAA entry requirements. He spent a semester at a local prep school before enrolling at NC State in January of 2005, spending the season competing on the scout team.
“It’s something I’ve worked hard for,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot with a whole lot of different things. This has been that time that I’ve been waiting for.
“For all the teams that passed me up and left me on the board as long as they did, I’ve always had something to prove. So I’m looking to come in right away and have a major impact on the organization.”
Young’s playing career at NC State began in 2006 when he played in 12 games with five starts. He didn’t come away with any sacks that season, but posted 4.5 tackles for loss and an interception, which he ran back 34 yards for a touchdown.
The following year was when he stats began to rise. He played in 12 games with eight starts, this time finishing with 15.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
“My game has progressed with maturity, understanding the game a little bit better and terminology has helped me a lot with my new coaching staff that came in with Coach Withers,” said Young.
“It has also progressed through understanding the importance of ‘team.’ Knowing what it is to be a team captain, a defensive captain, and do the best you can to make sure that we had guys – all 11 guys – on the same page at the same time and have the team as one.”
When Young finished his playing career this past season, he had accrued 20.0 career sacks and 46.0 tackles for loss.
His sack total put him in a group that included current NFL players Mario Williams and Manny Lawson as one of six in NC State history to finish with 20-or-more sacks.
That stat may have meant a little more to Young considering he began his playing career the season after they left for professional ranks.
“Coming in behind those guys allowed me the opportunity to come in and see how the game is played,” said Young of the time he spent on the scout team and watching the two on tape.
“Being there, those guys anchored down the No. 1 defense in the nation at that point in time. Just being able to watch them and see what it took to be a great and efficient pass rusher and playmaker, that informed me to know what it took to be great.”
As Young enters the NFL, his football career isn’t the only thing he is taking away from his time at NC State.
In the spring of 2009, Young graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Ethics.
“That piece of paper is something that I will always have,” he said. “Eventually I’ll get old and I’ll end up retiring from Detroit and I’ll go from there.
“But it was a major, major, major thing with my family. Not very many people in my family graduated from college. To accomplish that meant a lot, it really did.”
Now he will face his next challenge: making the 53-man squad in Detroit.
His journey will begin next weekend at the Lions’ Rookie Orientation where he will meet the rest of the team’s 2010 draft class.
One player in particular Young is looking forward to seeing is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
“I actually had a chance to sit down with Suh at the combine,” he said. “Off the field, Suh’s a really nice guy. He can turn the switch on and turn the switch off from on the field to off the field. He’s a really good guy, a really great guy. I’ve seen him play and I like what he does.
“The attention that he’s able draw will help any defensive end in this draft. He would help anyone out. That’s the kind of tackle that one guy needs. There’s not going to be one play that you would be able to put one guy on Suh. I’m excited about it, I’m really excited about it.”