Sarah Cummings only expected one thing from her grandson.
She thought he was perfect and wanted him to be perfect in everything. That’s why she nicknamed him “Pie” (Perfect In Everything).
USC freshman cornerback Keyshawn Young still goes by the name.
Though his grandmother died when Young was a small child, her impact still resonates with the kid that can’t seem to keep a smile off his face.
“She been my angel ever since I was a baby,” Young said. “I thank her because my grandmother was the one who put the [foot]ball in my hand when I was a baby, so it just stuck with me.”
From diapers to downtown L.A., Cummings’ early effort has led Young across the country where he’s trying to live up to her expectations on the football field at USC. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete starred on both sides of the ball for Miami (Fla.) Senior and may eventually do that as a Trojan, but he has found his home on defense this season.
“Even though I'm an athlete, I'm getting a feel of the defense,” Young said. “Know how everything goes and works. So everything is pretty much going good.”
Keyshawn Young defends against Arizona State. (Shotgun Spratling)
Young and fellow Miami freshman, safety Jamel Cook, have a tight bond that helped USC land both athletic defensive backs. The two are nearly inseparable off the field. They do everything together and help keep each other motivated, especially when both players missed time during fall camp with injuries. Cook has still yet to get back to 100 percent, but Young said he and the Trojans continue to “love him” and “keep him motivated.”
The duo is learning from the players in front of them on the depth chart like Adoree' Jackson and Iman Marshall, who were both Freshman All-Americans cornerbacks their first years, or senior safety Leon McQuay III, who has passes along his knowledge of Clancy Pendergast’s defense. Defensive backs coach Ronnie Bradford has also played a big educational role.
““He teaches me everything corner-wise,” Young said. “He teaches me corner technique and everything I need to work on. Coach Bradford is a great coach.”
A coach can teach a lot on the field, but can only do so much to make a player feel at home and build a family environment. It takes veteran players becoming big brothers.
McQuay knows exactly where Young and Cook are coming from. McQuay was also a highly touted Florida product that chose to make the cross-country leap. He said he’s constantly been harping on his fellow Sunshine Staters, his “little bros” as he calls them, to take care of their business professionally.
“It's just pretty much doing the right things. Doing things right. Taking care of your business up front, so you don't have to worry about it on the backend,” McQuay said. “Get stuff done early because when you wait that's when stuff comes back to haunt you — you're not doing the right things, you get a bad reputation and nobody want to mess with you. Just keeping your nose clean. Stuff like that.”
Young has found a role model in Jackson, who has taken special interest in “Pie.” He has pulled him under his wing and is mentoring the freshman in likely their only year on campus together, but their relationship didn’t begin when Young arrived for summer school this year.
“Man, Adoree' been messaging me way back a long time. Way before the recruiting process. He really is like a big brother to me. I love that man. I really look up to him.”
Despite his extraordinary talents, it is Jackson’s modesty that has caught Young’s eye.
“He's a humble guy. He's real humble,” Young said. “I watch him every day. I try to copy him. Try to be as best as him.”
Keyshawn Young shares a laugh with mentor Adoree' Jackson during a practice. (Shotgun Spratling)
But breaking into the cornerback rotation with Jackson and Marshall starting and Jonathan Lockett now taking over the nickel back duties, is no easy task. The nation’s top cornerback in the 2016 class, Jack Jones, has only played 17 defensive snaps this year.
That’s why Young is trying to solidify a special teams role. He is getting a chance to earn his stripes on the kickoff unit where he has become a regular after missing the first game of the season while recovering from a fall camp shoulder injury. He was also added to the punt return group for the Arizona State game.
“That's a big role. That's a big step,” Young said of getting special teams playing time. “Like they say, coaches like to see stuff like that. Guys who can be able to do it all.”
However, it isn’t necessarily permanent. Special teams coordinator John Baxter always seems to be tinkering with the lineups of each unit, trying to find the best group possible. Young tries to prove himself every time he steps on the field and is striving to achieve his goal of being an “impact player on special teams” this season.
It’s not a huge role, but one that he has embraced with constant positivity and a wide smile that flashes a glimmer of gold.
“I'm just a happy person, a happy guy. I love to be happy, make people smile and everything else. That's just how I am.”
And just how Cummings would want her “Pie” to be.
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