IOWA CITY, Iowa – A redshirt sophomore, Toren Young is the elder of Iowa’s running back group. It’s a responsibility he takes seriously.
He learned from LeShun Daniels, Akrum Wadley and James Butler during the last two seasons. He understood the importance of that guidance.
“I have the younger guys looking up to me now, the same way I looked up to (them). It’s a good feeling, though, to be in that position. I’m excited about it,” he said.
Young (5-11, 221) rushed 45 times for 193 yards and two touchdowns last year playing behind Wadley and Butler. True freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin added 184 yards and two scores on 20 carries.
Young and Kelly-Martin represent Iowa’s game experience at this position. Redshirt freshmen Kyshaun Bryan, who missed most of the fall with a shoulder injury, and Cam Harrell, who moved over from cornerback this spring, are the only other scholarship backs on the roster. Incoming freshmen Henry Geil and Samson Evans arrive in June.
On top of that, Derrick Foster joined the program and took over the running back position in January. He’s leaned on Young for help and received it.
“Toren is way ahead of his years,” Foster said. “He’s a very mature young man who accepts accountability, who leads by example, who is very vocal. Those are the things that he prides himself on and that we see in him.
“Toren sets an example not only on the field, he sets an example in the weight room, in the classroom as well. Those guys look at Toren as a big brother type of leader.”
Young enjoys playing for Foster, calling him energetic and funny. He provides what a youthful group needs.
“He has this contagious enthusiasm that’s been really beneficial to us in our room, especially being younger guys. It’s helped us with our confidence,” he said.
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The speed of the game overwhelmed Young at times during the fall. He’s spent the offseason slowing himself down. Iowa’s zone blocking schemes require patience.
He’s finding success this spring waiting for plays to develop.
“Most of it comes down to finding that good tempo. You get that through practice reps, reading your keys. Defensive linemen like to two-gap a lot. That’s one of the toughest situations you get in. They’re two-gapping and you cut too fast and they’re right there,” he said.
Foster called Young his most consistent threat catching the ball out of the backfield. He wants to make himself available, especially on third downs.
Blocking and blitz pickup remains a work in progress.
“Mentally, now, I’m a little bit more comfortable with it. Last year, trying to understand some of the protections was a little nerve-racking, especially not having game experience,” he said.
Watching film is helping him pick up tips the defense gives.
“Now I’m just trying to clean up the technical things, the fundamentals of it,” he said.
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Young continues adding strength and power while working on speed. His physical style matches well with Kelly-Martin’s shiftiness.
“He’s one of the quicker guys,” Young said. “He makes a lot of cuts. He can break tackles. I’m more of a north-south guy, try to run through guys. I think we complement each other pretty well.”
Despite a productive prep career at Madison (WI) Monona Grove High that saw him rush for 2,779 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior, the big college programs stayed away. The Hawkeyes were the only FBS school to offer a scholarship.
Now, he’s risen to the top of the depth chart at a school committed to running the football. Despite that ascension, he always remembers from where he came. It keeps him hungry.
“It will always be motivation. I think that goes for anybody who is in that situation. You just use it as a chip on your shoulder. Every time you step on the field, every time you go out to practice, every time you lift, you want to prove that you’re capable of being here because you were overlooked. That’s a chip that will be on my shoulder for the rest of my career,” he said.