By Bryan Dietzler
After signing a contract extension this past July, the Bears had hoped that the mostly consistent outside linebacker, Willie Young, would have a stellar season. To start, Young’s 2016 campaign was a rough one. He had only one sack in the Bears first four games. He finally broke out against the Colts recording three sacks. The Willie Young fans know and love so well was back “fishing” again on a regular basis.
Young is somewhat of a polarizing figure for Bears fans. He has been one of their top performers since he arrived in Chicago and is a pretty interesting character. But where does Young come from? How did he get into the NFL? How did he make it to Chicago?
The following is a look at the life and football career of Willie Young. There is a peek into where he can from, where he went to college, and where he played before he came to the Bears. Some of his stats will be included as well.
Young was born on September 19th, 1985 in Rivera Beach, Florida. Not much is known about his life before high school. We do know that in high school, he played three sports. He played football, where he was a defensive lineman, track and basketball.
He had some impressive statistics while he was in high school. In his junior year, he racked up 60 tackles with 15 of those were for a loss. He also collected nine sacks. In his senior year at Riviera Beach, he had 65 tackles, 25 for a loss and 12 sacks. Very impressive.
The high school football scouting service Scout.com gave Young a rating of three out of five starts which isn’t that bad. Perhaps he was destined to have a solid college career.
Young ended up getting a scholarship to North Carolina State University. He was redshirted in 2005 but played in all of the team’s games in 2006 (12 games). He started five of those contests and his the highpoint of that season, for him, came when he returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown.
During the 2007 season, Young played in every game starting eight. In 2008, he started in all 12 games and had an impressive 12.5 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hurries and 6.5 sacks.
The pre-NFL draft rankings were fairly favorable for Young. He was ranked 18th out of the 182 defensive ends in the 2010 NFL Draft. He had an excellent chance of first, getting drafted and second, getting drafted in a higher round.
When the dust settled from draft, Young had been selected in the seventh round at number 213. He was headed to the Detroit Lions.
Young’s first season as a pro was very uneventful. He spent most of the time inactive on game day and participated in just two games. He got some additional action the next season, 2011, seeing time in 14 games.
One of the most memorable moments of Young’s career with the Lions came in 2013. The Lions were playing the New England Patriots in a preseason game. In the game, Young had an encounter with famed Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady. Young caused Brady to throw an errant pass. When the play was over, Young proceeded to snatch Brady’s jersey and put his finger in Brady’s face through his facemask.
The play earned Young a 15 yard penalty. He sat on the bench the rest of the game.
Young’s fortunes would turn in March of 2013 as he signed a three year contract with the Chicago Bears. Young would earn nine million for the deal. This was much better than the contract he came into the league with.
The Bears penciled Young in as a backup behind their starters, at that time, Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. Young did see some action early on in the 2014 campaign and earned his first sack in the Bears first game (against the Buffalo Bills). Young racked up two more sacks the next week (against San Francisco) and got one more against the New York Jets.
The budding star went sackless the next week but still had an impact in the game (which was against the Green Bay Packers). He blocked a kick.
Young’s sack streak started back up again the next week as he got Cam Newton to the turf once in a Bears loss. Two more sacks were added to his season tally the following week against the Atlanta Falcons. Young was turning into a bit of a superstar.
The rest of the season was hit and miss for Young. He earned three more sacks, closing out the year with 10. That was pretty good for someone who hadn’t seen much action during his first few seasons. But change was coming for Young and the Bear’s defense. Change that Young appeared to not care for.
The Bears changed coaching staffs the next season and brought in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio’s mantra was the 3-4 defense. The introduction of the 3-4 defense meant that Young would have to move to outside linebacker. This was a change that he appeared not to enjoy and stated that he didn’t want to be called a linebacker. He was openly vocal about it.
In the 2015 season, Young played in a total of 15 games with eight starts. All together he had six and a half sacks along with one interception. That interception came in the Bears game against the Rams and the return he had on it is memorable. If you saw that game and saw Young return the pick, you would recall his rumbling down the sideline before getting belted out of bounds at the end it. It was a “highlight” play from a dismal 2015 season for the Bears.
In July of this year, Young signed a two year contract extension. This would allow him to continue on as a Bear and perhaps finish his career with them.
At the end of training camp, Young was named the starter at one of the outside linebacker positions. This came after a strong training camp and preseason.
Fans seem to enjoy Young and his famous post-sack dance. He likes to pretend like he is “fishing” following a sack. He pretends to cast, pretends to hook the fish and then pretends to reel it in. Very entertaining.
Young is a comical guy and fans seem to really like him. He is a solid starter and appears to be getting better as this season progresses. Hopefully he can continue to play well over the next few games and give the Bears defense a boost. He’s definitely one of the players to watch.
Jaguars game update: Young had a pretty nice game against the Jaguars this past Sunday. In the game he had two sacks and a forced fumble that saved the Bears, at least for the time being. Another excellent game in a Bears uniform by Young.