On Saturday Young, now a senior captain for the Commodores, makes one last trip to his old stomping grounds. When Vanderbilt (0-1) meets Ole Miss (0-2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (11:30 a.m, Jefferson-Pilot TV, 104.5 The Zone), it marks a final return for Young to the region he terrorized for some 3,000 yards as a high school option quarterback.
Young's selection as a captain last spring by his teammates came as an eyebrow-raiser to some, but his performance in the Sept. 4 opener against South Carolina seemed to show that his teammates' confidence was not at all misplaced. In the 31-6 loss, Young pulled down four catches for the first time in his career and was part of a four-pronged passing attack which saw four Commodore receivers (Erik Davis, Brandon Smith, Marlon White and Young) catch four or more passes.
"I am extremely proud of Chris, and how he has overcome adversity to regain his position with this team," said head coach Bobby 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 it."
Young reported to Vanderbilt in 2000 as one of the most highly-rated recruits ever to announce for the school. The versatile Batesville native's decision to sign with Vanderbilt that Febuary set off a spontaneous eruption of joy among Commodore supporters. Though Ole Miss fans were mystified by it, it came down to a decision to play with his brother (linebacker Antuian Bradford) and have a chance for immediate playing time.
But his 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 youthful Young's immaturity and difficulty in handling the spotlight.
He uses the word "rocky" today to describe his first two years at Vanderbilt.
"My whole career has been riddled with ups and downs," he said. "I just wanted to get everything out of the way and get on a level playing field and be able to play some ball."
Though his gifts were apparent from the start, "C.Y." was sparsely used in his first two seasons, and struggled to find a position in coordinator Steve Crosby's offense. He contributed only five catches his entire sophomore year. Many observers felt he was out of position at receiver and might have been able to contribute more as a defensive back.
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, and Vanderbilt hired Bobby Johnson to replace Widenhofer in December of 2001. By August 2002, however, 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."
Many assumed that that would be the last Vanderbilt would see of Young-- but Young decided to stay. 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.
"I just decided to approach it the way that it would benefit me. I just want to win, whether I'm playing or not, be it in a mentoring capacity with the younger guys, or whatever. I just had in my mind that I want Vanderbilt to win.
"So I just had to do what I had to do. I tried to better myself, came out every day and tried to work hard and make everybody else better. It was just a frame of mind. Once I got my mind right, everything just fell into place."
"Chris earned the respect of all the other guys on the football team," Johnson said of Young's redshirt year. 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.
The circle is almost complete for the mercurial Young, now a fifth-year senior. He will leave Vanderbilt this year with a degree in Human and Organizational Development and will graduate as one of the team's most respected players.
Still, nothing would quite complete the circle for Young like a win in his home state of Mississippi on Saturday.