WR comes full circle: Chris Young elected captain

At the Black and Gold Scrimmage March 20, Head Coach Bobby Johnson announced that senior wide receiver Chris Young had been elected by his peers as one of four 2004 team captains. "I've had a lot of bumps and bruises in my career here," Young tells VandyMania. "Now I'm just trying to help some of those guys steer clear of some of those same things that I went through."

NASHVILLE-- If you've not visited McGugin Athletics Center in the last six months, you need to. Thanks to a generous gift from some Commodore Club donors, the main interior hallway has been designated the "Corridor of Captains." The hall has been painted gold, and photos and plaques honoring every football captain from Vanderbilt's 114-year football history are neatly mounted.

And soon, there'll be a new photo... one that includes senior wide receiver Chris Young. At the Black and Gold Scrimmage March 20, Head Coach Bobby Johnson announced that Young had been elected by his peers as one of four team captains for the 2004 season.

The other three-- senior offensive lineman Justin Geisinger, junior quarterback Jay Cutler and junior defensive end Jovan Haye-- had all been captains the year before, so their re-election came as no surprise. But Young's election came as an eyebrow-raiser to a number of folks-- although not to his teammates nor his coaches.

"That was a long time coming for Chris," said Young's teammate at wide receiver, Erik Davis. "I think he needed to be a captain a long time ago. He's very vocal. He motivates people. I think he'll do an excellent job."

"I am extremely proud of Chris, and how he has overcome adversity to regain his position with this team," said Coach Johnson. "He has become one of the key leaders on our team. It's a great honor to be elected captain by your teammates, and Chris worked very hard for this."

Young himself said he was surprised a little bit, but not much.

"I haven't been doing as much on the field as I'd like, but now at least I can give something back to the team," Young said. "It wasn't a big surprise, but it is a pleasant one."

Young came to Vanderbilt as one of the most prized recruits ever signed by former coach Woody Widenhofer. The versatile Batesville, Miss. native's decision to sign with Vanderbilt in Febuary, 2000, set off a spontaneous eruption of joy among Commodore supporters.

But Young's abrupt decision to change his destination after making a public commitment to nearby Ole Miss, in retrospect perhaps should have been seen by fans as a foreshadowing of the mercurial Young's immaturity and difficulty in handling the spotlight.

Though his gifts were apparent from the start, the 6-2, 190-pounder was sparsely used in his first two seasons, and struggled to find a position in Steve Crosby's offense. He contributed only five catches his entire sophomore year.

Head Coach Woody Widenhofer resigned late in Young's sophomore season, a season which ended with an away game at Ole Miss. The week before the game, a frustrated Young told a Tupelo newspaper he was thinking about transferring, setting off a stir among the media and his teammates.

Ultimately, Young decided to stay. Vanderbilt hired Bobby Johnson to replace Widenhofer in December of 2001, and the brouhaha seemed to have passed over.

But by August of 2002, Young found himself on the outs with the new staff. On the eve of the beginning of fall camp, Johnson announced that Young was being suspended for the entire 2002 season for the nebulous "unspecified violation of team rules."

Rumors swirled. Many assumed that that would be the last Vanderbilt would see of Young, as his older brother and confidant, linebacker Antuian Bradford, had run out of eligibility and was no longer around to guide him. But to the surprise of many, Young decided to stay and finish his education and football career at Vanderbilt.

During that year, a redshirt season which Young spent with the scout team, something changed. It was obvious to all that Young did a fair amount of growing up during that year of not playing on game days.

"You wouldn't believe what a great job Chris did on our scout teams," Johnson marveled at SEC Media Days 2003. "He earned the respect of all the other guys on the football team. He worked extremely hard, every day and all day. He learned a great deal of appreciation for being able to play this great game in this great league. I think he's going to take advantage of the situation he has now."

Johnson was prescient-- Young returned for his junior season in 2003 to make 15 receptions for 202 yards, easily his best year to date. Though Brandon Smith and Erik Davis became known as the offense's big-play receivers, Young gained a measure of respect from his teammates for his exemplary leadership and diligent work habits.

Chris Young poses in the "Corridor of Captains." (VandyMania / Brent Wiseman)
As he prepares for the 2004 season, Young is one of the most heartening stories on the football team. Once a shy, quiet youth who made the media relations staff nervous every time he opened his mouth, Young is now looked upon as a spokesman for a team that should be vastly improved over last season in terms of depth and experience. He has come full circle.

"I've had a lot of bumps and bruises in my career here," Young told VandyMania. "Now I'm just trying to help some of those guys steer clear of some of those same things that I went through. I feel like we've got a great opportunity ahead of us this year. It's exciting, y'know what I'm sayin'?"

As for the receiving corps and how it has progressed this spring, Young can only think of one word: "Amazing."

"The progression we've made has been phenomenal," he said. "We've got a lot of guys who know the system already. Brandon [Smith]-- he'll be back [after shoulder surgery]. But as a whole together in the spring, with Brandon out, receiving has been pretty good."

The receiving corps is now under assistant coach Charlie Fisher, who replaced the departed J. D. Hall in January.

"Coach Fisher is a great coach," Young said. "All in all I think we needed all the changes that have occurred. We learned from Coach Hall, and we built on what he taught us. Everything has just carried over. I think the receiving corps is going to be great this year.

"Of course Erik Davis has shown what he can do. Marlon White is going to be phenomenal. When George Smith gets back healthy, he's going to be one of the good ones. The way we stick behind each other-- I can't explain it. It's almost tear-jerking, we're so tight.

"That's how the whole team feels, too. We're just vibin', y'know? It gives me goosebumps thinking about it."


Photos by Brent Wiseman, copyright 2004 by VandyMania.com.

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