JOHNSON CITY — One of the most electrifying prep prospects in recent Tennessee history, who tallied nearly 7,500 all-purpose yards in a decorated career, arrived on campus hoping to prove he belonged.
Today, no one doubts that Devrin Young, the Vols' 5-foot-8 sophomore tailback, belongs in big-time college football.
But Young wants to ascend new hurdles in this month's camp. Young is one of three backs vying for carries in Tennessee's revamped backfield.
Just by competing for the job — and, by all accounts, being in the mix for serious playing time — he has already crossed a major threshold. UT coach Derek Dooley emphasized early in camp that he sees Young not just as a returner being given an opportunity to carry the ball, but as a running back who also happens to be an excellent returner.
Young and the Vols practiced Friday at Science Hill High School, about 15 minutes from their off-campus training camp home base at Milligan College, because Milligan's fields were unusable due to heavy rains. The team will scrimmage today, which likely will have a big impact on the running back battle and several other races.
Young played high school at Bearden in Knoxville, where virtually everyone who saw him play has some sort of awestruck recollection of one of his runs. Bearden played Science Hill when Young was a sophomore. "Didn't you rush for 200 yards that night?" one local reporter asked him.
"I had a buck and some change," Young replied with a smile. "I think I went for two or three touchdowns. It was a good day, for everybody. And I think it was (Science Hill's) Homecoming, too — not trying to rub it in."
Days like that were routine for Young in high school, yet interest from big football schools was scarce.
He was offered a scholarship by Division II Carson-Newman and was being watched by a host of other schools, but SEC teams were being cautious.
"I didn't know if I was
going to get any big offers," Young said. "I was having some small ones come in. But I was waiting and waiting. I was worried, but I just kept playing and kept faith. Then God blessed me with the one big offer."
That offer was Tennessee, and it took less than a full school day for him to say yes.
Still, lacking the recruiting attention — and, of course, the size — of some of his college teammates, he arrived on campus with a desire to prove he belonged.
"That was one of the most important things," Young said. "Not just proving to you guys (the media), but proving to my teammates and coaches — especially to the coaches. They gave me a chance. I just wanted to show that I could play among the best."
This month he's competing against two larger backs, Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal. He's also returning punts and in the mix to return kickoffs, two things he did regularly last year while catching three passes and carrying the ball six times.
The Vols could — and probably will — use all three backs, particularly early in the season. With no established returning running back, plenty of carries are available. Even so, there's significance to today's scrimmage.
"We want to show consistency, good ball control, good pass protection and good play-making ability," Young said. "We each individually want to show coaches where we stand."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.