When Willie Young made one of the biggest plays in Arkansas-Pine Bluff football history, he didn’t have a full regular season of games under his belt. But the true freshman had experience in making an impact — with just one play.
Spending time behind a strong crop of receivers, Young waited patiently for his breakout performance. It came during the Golden Lions’ 10th game of the season, at Grambling State. Not quite 4 minutes into the game, he hauled in a pass from Ben Anderson and turned it into a 66-yard touchdown play for the game’s first score.
As it turned out, it was much needed. UAPB held on for a 24-17 victory.
So, it was no surprise that Young — who made only his seventh appearance of the season in the SWAC championship game — might be called on for another big catch. With UAPB trailing 21-14 and 2 minutes remaining in regulation, Young charged down the middle, past the secondary, made an over-the-shoulder haul from Anderson and sprinted about 50 more yards into the end zone to complete a 95-yard play. UAPB defeated Jackson State 24-21 in overtime.
With one play, Young thrust himself into the national spotlight as a hero for the winning team.
“I’ve gotten way more confidence” after the play, Young said. “I’ve had confidence, but it boosted it to a new level.”
Finishing the season the way he did has given Young plenty of excitement going into the offseason. On Saturday, he’ll close out his first spring camp with the Black and Gold Game at 1 p.m. at Golden Lion Stadium.
“I’m excited about the season, because I feel like everybody knows me now,” Young said. “They’re going to play their best players, and I feel like I want to go against the best.”
Young, who had 313 yards on eight receptions last year, doesn’t have to worry about limited opportunities when the 2013 season comes. He’s still working out behind Ladarius Eckwood and Dezmond Beverly during spring drills, but he and newcomer Sam Bass give the Golden Lions more deep threats who could give All-SWAC first-team quarterback Anderson an even better season through the air.
“He’s a rare talent,” wide receivers coach Craig Raye said of Young. “His concern right now is grasping the whole playbook. He’s physical. He’s gotten stronger in the weight room, working on his releases. He’s a natural athlete; that’s not a problem. Plus, he’s got great top-end speed. “
Young draws inspiration from Eckwood, who was the team’s leading receiver in 2012 with 787 yards and six touchdowns on 52 receptions.
“Playing behind him, I always tell him, ‘You motivate me,’” Young said. “’I see you do something, that makes me want to do something.’ And he’s always talking to me about it. Big plays come from big-time players.”
Young, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from New Orleans — previous rosters listed his hometown as Chalmette, La. — has concentrated on his weight training during the winter and his route running during spring drills to improve his game.
“Coach Raye has been coaching me a lot on the things I need to be coached with,” Young said. “He and (offensive coordinator Eric) Dooley worked with me, so I got way better.”