Comfortable With The Mirror

Donovonn Young could have run away. Instead, he squared up against his biggest problem -- himself -- and attacked it head on.

CHAMPAIGN — From the outside, the offseason was full of speculation regarding Donovonn Young.

Was he happy? Would he transfer? Might he give up football? One report in the Chicago Tribune said the Illinois running back, a rising senior, already had one foot out the door and was in the process of selecting a new football home.

Everything was pointing to an escape. Running away was clearly an option.

"I could have," he said. "It was a thought in my mind, no doubt.

"I didn't get what I wanted last year. Life doesn't go your way all the time. It was hard because there was a lot of pressure."

Walk through the doors located on the north side of Memorial Stadium. You're greeted by Fathead-style wall images of Coach Tim Beckman and one player. It's Donovonn Young.

And the Illinois player pictured on the Big Ten Network bus that toured the conference landscape last August? Again, Donovonn Young.

With Young's muscled up look and two years on the job meshing with new coordinator Bill Cubit's offensive mind, everybody pegged Young as the guy for the 2013 season.

It didn't happen. Not even close.

Instead it was Josh Ferguson that broke out and starred as Young had problems holding on to the football and rushed for 376 yards and three touchdowns, well below his production the previous year.

"I mean, it was hard," Young said. "People were coming at me telling me I wasn't worth anything."

On the football field Young felt lost. He wasn't getting to play and he couldn't convince himself how to go about changing that. The coaching staff was up front with what he needed to do, but Young was further confused by constantly comparing himself to Ferguson.

"They (the coaches) told me, hey this is what I want to do but it was — I saw Josh doing well and it was like, damn, maybe I should be doing what Josh is doing."

The Houston native was feeling a lot of different ways about the situation. He was the face, 'DY', the physically impressive, sharp dressed, charismatic player wearing No. 5 — made famous in the backfield by former Illini star Rashard Mendenhall.

Frustrated and disappointed, Young didn't take well to failing to meet expectations, whether his own or of those in and outside the program.

"Everything fell to pieces," he said. "Like I said it was hard, just trying to figure out what they wanted from me and what I had in my mind. Everything was a big mix up."

So Young contemplated leaving. He could have joined a new team with a new coach and new teammates in a new location.

But he'd still be him. Changing everything else wouldn't fix what was the underlying problem.

It would have been medication for the symptoms while not solving the cause, the core problem.

His self-diagnosis: Young didn't know who he was.

"I got so caught up in, not necessarily getting big headed or anything like that, it was pressure that like I was thinking I've gotta do that because I want to be like this," he said.

"I just knew it was time for me to figure our who I was, other than No. 5 Donovonn Young, DY, just the football player that people know. I feel like I was just so caught up in football, school that I didn't have enough time to just work on me. The fact that last year went the way it did, I finally realized I just needed to take some time out to figure out who I was and help myself out."

Never a dedicated reader, Young hit the bookstore for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. He finished that one and is about to start Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. What last season showed Young was that life isn't always ideal. Football may or may not be there. The only constant no matter what would he himself. If he couldn't find happiness and a sense of satisfaction now, how would he find it later?

Young first accepted that it's OK to not be OK. And then he steadily began to change the way he thought and worked to improve his personal approach instead of consuming his mind solely with football-oriented goals.

"It's like, man, day by day with principles in my life everything else will work itself out," he said. "And if it doesn't you go back to those principles of life and eventually things will work out. You can't do right forever and everything go wrong, you know what I'm saying? I feel like if I keep doing the right things everything will work out for me in it's own time. Maybe not on my time, but sometime. I learned a lot. Last year is behind me but I'm glad that it happened."

Now amid his final set of spring practices, Young carries himself as a positive work in progress. Ferguson is playing better than he ever has and figures to be the feature back. Young is getting his reps, too, and laughed harder than anybody when Cubit recently sneak attacked a group of reporters to jokingly ask Young about his receding hairline.

This might not be what Young envisioned, yet he's dedicated to making the most of it. His words may be filled with football adages, but it's pretty clear his progressing philosophy applies off the field, too.

"Get four or five yards," he said of his role. "Just keep the pile moving. I don't need to make big plays. I don't need to be what Josh is. I just need to be me and that's what I've been working on. Just sticking to north to south and being that guy that Coach Cubit needs and helping his play calling out and being accountable, being reliable."

In other words, Young only needs to be Young.That's good enough. And slowly he's allowing himself to accept that.


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