Arkansas-Pine Bluff faced third-and-6 from the Alabama State 18, leading by two points with less than 10 minutes to go.
Freshman Jeremiah Young had his number called often after classmate and fellow running back Jamie Smith went down with a shoulder injury. Anderson pitched the ball again to Young, but the sweep that wouldn’t be turned into the offense’s play of the day.
Young dropped a few steps back and completed a pass to a wide-open Anderson in the flat, and the quarterback dove just into the corner of the end zone to make it a two-possession game. But the play didn’t pack enough punch to knock out the Hornets, who came back to win 40-39.
With that play, however, Young solidified himself as a key offensive weapon for the Golden Lions. He had also done his job rushing, leading the Lions with 70 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in only his third collegiate game.
It was a sign the UAPB running game is in good hands of freshmen.
“I knew I could do it,” said Young, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound bruiser who prepped at nearby Dollarway High. “(Dollarway) coach (Cortez) Lee prepared me for this level, so I had to work over the summer. I knew I was ready to give it my all on the collegiate level.”
The Lions made waves during the offseason signing a talented crop of running backs out of high school, including Smith from Camden Fairview, Walter Ashley from Pine Bluff and Draylon Willis from Wynne. Much of Golden Lion Nation knew the team was well equipped for the future at that position, but with veterans Justin Billings, Aaron Lagrone and Alton Taylor expected to lead the pack, it was only a matter of when the younger Lions would begin to contribute.
They found out right as the season began. Billings and Lagrone haven’t yet been cleared to play this season, and Taylor got the starting nod for the opener at Arkansas State. But Smith progressed to the first string and has started the past two games, while Young has scored points in every game.
“The thing about Jamie Smith, he learned the offense,” running backs coach Keith Saine said. “He was dedicated. He came out and worked hard, worked his way up. Things didn’t come out the way we expected them to come out, so that gave him the opportunity to play and he came in big for us.”
So has Young, who’s found a home at UAPB after considering bigger-name schools.
He said Arkansas and Arkansas State had shown plenty of interest during his senior year of high school. But by December, both programs had changed head coaches, and Young said he didn’t hear much from the new men in charge.
Arkansas and UAPB offered Young scholarships. Young, waiting to talk to the new Arkansas staff, didn’t sign with the Razorbacks in time, so he considered other Football Bowl Subdivision programs hoping to land in that division. That kept him from signing with UAPB before that scholarship offer expired.
But the Lions didn’t give up on Young, and he decided to walk on at his hometown university.
“(Offensive coordinator Eric) Dooley, Ben (Anderson) and coach Saine kept in touch with me, kept telling me they needed a big back,” Young said. “So I chose to come out here because I wanted to be used. I didn’t want to go anywhere that was 10-deep at running back. So I wanted to go somewhere and produce.”
And Young was always confident he’d play right away at UAPB, even with experienced backs lined up ahead of him on the depth chart.
“Ben always used to say, work hard and I’ll get there,” Young said. “He even worked with me when I was in high school, so he prepared me and told me to get ready.”
He’s prepared well. Young already has three touchdowns to his name this season, and his 70 yards Saturday is a career high that he’ll likely top somewhere down the road.
Smith leads the team with 164 rushing yards through three games, but head coach Monte Coleman said his status for Saturday’s home game against Alcorn State is day-to-day with a shoulder stinger that was aggravated against Alabama State.
Coleman added neither Billings nor Lagrone is expected to be cleared to play Saturday. Saine said Young is physical enough to carry the ball 30 times if necessary, but he’ll also have some help available in the form of fullback Michael Wilson and Ashley.
“If he gets tired, they can step in and fill the role,” Saine said. “(Ashley would) be a good change-of-pace guy, catch the ball well out of the backfield.”
Either way, Alcorn State will have prepare for the way of the future — and the present — that is the UAPB backfield.
“They still have a long way to go,” Saine said of Young and Smith. “These guys are getting better every day, and I’m for big things out of these two.”
Alcorn State (2-1) at UAPB (0-3)
• When: 6 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Golden Lion Stadium
• Radio: KUAP-FM 89.7
• SWAC records: Alcorn State 1-0; UAPB 0-1
• Last meeting: UAPB 24, Alcorn State 6, at Lorman, Miss., on Sept. 15, 2012