Bryce Young has yet to throw a pass of consequence for Alabama and yet he already has a bull’s-eye on his back.
As the highest-rated quarterback recruit of the dynastic Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa, brilliance is expected. The sophomore is projected to make seven figures this year in money off his name, image and likeness (NIL). He is on preseason Heisman Trophy lists.
“There’s obviously expectations,” the 6-foot Young said over Zoom recently. “For me, regardless of what happened in high school or any past experience I’ve had, coming to ’Bama is where you come for pressure and where you come for expectations.”
Young will be replacing Mac Jones, the first-round pick of the Patriots who led Alabama to a perfect season and set the record for completion percentage (77.4) and passer efficiency rating (203.06) in his one year as the Crimson Tide starter. Before Jones was Tua Tagovailoa, another national championship-winning quarterback, and before him came Jalen Hurts. All were exceptional in their first season under center.
Still, Young is unique. When he signed, Saban said, “Bryce Young has all the right stuff. I absolutely love the guy,” rare praise from the legendary coach. ESPN college football analyst and former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy told The Post he is unlike any signal-caller who has played the position for the juggernaut in recent memory. McElroy keeps hearing comparisons to Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner and former No. 1 pick who is now the quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, because of Young’s ability to make plays with his arm and his feet.
“Obviously, it’s always dangerous to compare someone that has never played a meaningful snap with a guy who won a Heisman Trophy,” McElroy said, “but the people I’ve talked to have drawn some of those comparisons with just his style of play and how sudden he is when making little moves in the pocket and on the perimeter.”
Young, the second-rated prospect in the 2020 class according to 247Sports.com, is used to pressure — albeit not at this level. Prior to his junior year of high school, the Pasadena, Calif., native transferred to national powerhouse Mater Dei to challenge himself on the biggest stage.
Taking over for JT Daniels, who is currently the starting quarterback at Georgia, Young guided Mater Dei to a mythical national championship as a junior. The next season, he produced 68 touchdowns in 13 games, finishing his high school career with 13,520 passing yards and 152 touchdowns through the air. He was the Offensive MVP of the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Game. According to 247Sports.com California-based recruiting analyst Greg Biggins, Young was at his best at Mater Dei when his protection broke down. He was able to make defenders miss and create chunk plays without the mistakes that often come with such improvisation.
“The amount of years I’ve known Bryce and been around him, I’ve never seen a moment too big for him. He actually thrives in those situations,” said Taylor Kelly, Mater Dei’s quarterbacks coach who has worked closely with Young dating back to eighth grade at 3DQB, a quarterback training company. “Just the way he moves, the way he talks, his ability making plays, is heightened [in difficult situations].”
Craig Young felt for a long time his son possessed special qualities. He remembered watching him carry his Pop Warner team to national championships. Once, in the seventh grade, Bryce went down to a football camp in South Carolina. Quarterbacks were running the option, which Bryce had never done before. He didn’t hesitate jumping two feet in, despite getting knocked around for three days.
“He just wouldn’t quit,” Craig recalled. “That was part of when I realized how determined he was and how competitive he was.”
Craig described his son as calm, level-headed and laidback, similar to his mother, Julie. Craig has a background in mental health, and at a young age he had Bryce work on breathing exercises in moments of stress, visualizing success and being able to cope with adverse situations with positivity.
“I think it’s one of his greatest gifts and makes him so good under pressure,” Craig said.
That will be put to the test this fall, starting on Sept. 4. Young’s first start will come against nationally ranked Miami and fellow Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback D’Eriq King. Two weeks later is his first true road game, at SEC East power Florida. No easing in. Young will be tossed into the deep end of the pool without a flotation device.
The early indications are Young will be up to the task. He shined in the Crimson Tide’s spring game, throwing for 333 yards, and has impressed coaches and teammates alike during camp with his maturity, leadership skills and talent. Asked about his impressions of Young this past week, Saban praised his knowledge of the offense, his decision-making and consistency. His new starting quarterback didn’t seem like a concern to him.
“I’ve been pleased with his performance,” Saban said. “We’ve just got to get the people around him to play a little better on a more consistent basis.”
After spending a year on the sideline watching Jones lead Alabama to its fifth national title in the last decade, Young feels he is prepared for what’s next. It was his first time in his entire career spent as an observer, but it was valuable, giving him insight into what it took to win at a new level. It was also not something the young quarterback wanted to get used to. He came to Tuscaloosa to play and win championships. Young will get his chance this fall, and those close to the young quarterback expect him to flourish.
“He can win the Heisman, he can win the national championship,” said Kelly, a former star college quarterback at Arizona State. “Those are things that are very attainable for [him and] Alabama this year.”
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