Why freaky OSU DE Chase Young is the best player in college football: ‘There’s only 10 guys like him in the world’

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The first overmatched victim of Ohio State defensive end Chase Young flashes on a projector screen in the Buckeyes football facility. Defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley hits pause to single out an offensive tackle from Florida Atlantic, frozen in game-film infamy amid an autopsy of Young’s sacks.

Hafley see-saws the film until it stops in the precise place that shows Young vaulting a half-step toward the quarterback an instant after the snap. There’s a tone of pity in Hafley’s voice, as the Florida Atlantic linemen are still lined up perfectly still like a row of folding chairs.

A half-step advantage for a defensive lineman is like a 10-yard cushion for a wide receiver, and Young appears poised to bull-rush past the line with the ease of fans flowing through a turnstile.

“Not one of the offensive linemen is moving,” Hafley said, shaking his head. “It’s. Over. Doesn’t it look like he’s running out of the blocks in a track meet?”

When the film resumes, Young proceeds to barrel around the edge virtually unimpeded for one of his 9.5 sacks, a total that’s tied for No. 1 in college football. The frozen moments of singular dominance have come in flourishes through seven games, as the image of Young’s blond dreadlocks splayed out behind him as he mauls helpless quarterbacks has seemingly played on a loop this season.

Young is a 6-foot-6, 270-pound freak who appears to be darting toward greatness like, well, a sprinter coming out of the blocks. Former Buckeye Nick Bosa compares Young’s skill set to elite NFL rush ends Khalil Mack and Von Miller, two generational pass-rush talents. “That type of get-off,” Bosa told Yahoo Sports recently. “He has that speed first, power second.”

Young’s potential invokes the hyperbole of an athlete that can change the paradigm of the position. Along with consistently mangling quarterbacks, he can also fluidly drop back into coverage, block kicks and has an imposing physique that one NFL scout likens to LeBron James.

Chase Young has become the latest standout defensive end for the Ohio State Buckeyes this season and is expected to be a top NFL draft pick. (Getty)
Chase Young has become the latest standout defensive end for the Ohio State Buckeyes this season and is expected to be a top NFL draft pick. (Getty)

The natural comparison for Young in Columbus remains the Bosa brothers, former Buckeyes who went No. 2 in the 2019 draft (Nick) and No. 3 overall in 2016 (Joey). Both Bosas have performed at a level that justify those lofty picks, but former OSU coach Urban Meyer says that Young “may be the most talented” of the three.

“The guy looks like the Predator,” said FAU coach Lane Kiffin, mimicking Young’s popular nickname. “There’s only 10 guys like him in the world.”

NFL scouts see him the same way, as he’s widely considered the most talented prospect in all college football. His draft position will be reflective of the quarterback desperation among the NFL’s most despondent franchises. “He’s what you want from a guy who is going to be the No. 1 pick,” said a veteran NFL scout. “He’s a super athlete, he’s massive and he’s been productive.”

Young’s emergence is a combination of fortunate genetics, conscientious parenting and a flurry of bold-faced mentors. They begin with Carla and Greg Young, his exacting mother and father who shepherded his journey through do-your-own-laundry discipline and strict regiments of pushups and tough love. Young also learned along the way from No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz and No. 2 NFL pick Nick Bosa, and lapped up all the lessons of Larry Johnson, the Buckeyes’ defensive line Yoda.

As Ohio State (7-0) pursues its first College Football Playoff bid since 2016, Young is simultaneously sprinting toward meeting Fultz, his old DeMatha Catholic High School hoops teammate, in the rarest of airs. “I used to tell him when I was younger that I was going to be the No. 1 pick in basketball,” Fultz said. “And he was going to try and meet me up top and be the No. 1 pick in football.”

How did Chase Young grow into the most feared player in all of college football? It all starts with how he grew up.

Raising a superstar

The stories of Chase Young’s accelerated trajectory begin at age 3, at his family’s home in Cheltenham, Maryland. When Young first jumped off the diving board at the family’s housing development, he debuted with a front flip. From there, Young kept somersaulting ahead of his peers.

The evolution of Chase Young into a generational prospect starts with his parents, who provided both outsized genetics and a diverse plan for success. Greg Young is 6-foot-10, a lunar eclipse of a human who played college basketball at Bowie State and still holds the burly build of a 1980s NBA power forward. Carla Young is 6-foot, and while she didn’t play sports, she helped set the tone of work ethic and competitiveness in the family.

Greg is retired from Arlington County Sheriff’s Office after years of working the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. Carla has worked the last 32 years for the Department of Transportation and 34 overall years for the federal government. Greg Young worked 15 days a month, a schedule that allowed him to train his kids. (Chase’s sister, Weslie, played college basketball at North Carolina Wesleyan). The Youngs believed in both physical and mental development, with specialization frowned upon and weights and trainers not necessary.

The training began soon after their kids could walk. Greg and Carla insisted their kids play outside, with skateboards, sandboxes and trampolines luring their kids out of the house. “They didn’t do video games,” Carla said, proudly.

Ohio State star Chase Young has been building up to this moment his whole life. (Yahoo Sports illustration/Photos: Young family)
Ohio State star Chase Young has been building up to this moment his whole life. (Yahoo Sports illustration/Photos courtesy of Young family)

Chase Young played soccer until eighth grade, played basketball until his junior year of high school and ran track into high school, developing the footwork, speed and dexterity inherent to those sports. Chase even played the piano, saxophone and violin. In high school, he sang in the choir at St. Vincent Pallotti (Maryland) before transferring to DeMatha Catholic.

Chase may be the most physically blessed player in college football, but he didn’t begin seriously lifting weights until late in high school. He built a strong core with 100 pushups and 200 sit-ups a day, as Greg believed in Herschel Walker’s philosophy that physique could be built on the weight of the body.

Greg insisted on toughness, including enrolling Chase to play football with older kids. Chase played quarterback for the Patuxent Rhinos, a team of 9-year-olds, easily memorizing and executing the full assortment of plays. There was just one issue. “Every time he got hit, he would get up crying,” Greg said. “They were like, ‘Why's he always crying? I said, ‘He's 6!’ ”

Chase didn’t get a cell phone until high school, never had a television in his bedroom and wasn’t allowed to grow out his dreadlocks until 10th grade. Attendance at Sunday church was mandatory, as was family dinner with Carla cooking up meatloaf, mac-and-cheese and greens, piled high for growing kids. Privileges came with accomplishment, as Chase was allowed to get tattoos only after he got to Ohio State. Carla relented after a memorable text: “Are you still gonna love me if I get a tattoo?” Chase asked. Carla lets out her hearty trademark laugh. “Of course!”

Chase began washing and ironing his own clothes at age 7, with the unappealing alternative of having to wear dirty clothes. He began mowing the lawn at age 10 and he and his sister both were in charge of packing their own lunch.

“A lot of parents can learn from them,” said Randy Ransom, one of Chase’s youth coaches and a family friend. “I wouldn’t say they sheltered him, but they told him the rules and he abided by them.”

As Chase navigates the final stretch of college until his vast potential will collide with professional riches, he looks back with appreciation. “What my parents did,” he says, “it's the reason why I am who I am today.”

The student becomes the master

Nick Bosa laughed on the other end of the phone. He knew the question was coming and chuckled upon its arrival. He’d grown up in the five-star shadow of his brother, Joey, so he’s had years of refining his dodging technique. “Chase can be as good as he wants,” Nick Bosa said. “I don’t want to compare.”

The making of Chase Young into a prospect that can inhabit the same rare conversational sphere as the Bosas continued upon his arrival at Ohio State in 2017. At that time, Joey Bosa was a burgeoning star on a defensive line where every starter – Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa – ended up getting drafted.

Nick Bosa most appreciated how Young’s desire to learn and grow into a star matched his physical promise, as he jokes Young showed up at “270 pounds with a six pack.” After a lifetime as Joey’s little brother, Nick enjoyed the role reversal in mentoring Young.

“He saw me as a role model, I guess, which was cool,” Nick Bosa said. “I was always looking up to people. To have someone younger than me looking up to me was cool.”

The education of Chase Young came at the feet of Bosa, the loaded defensive line room and its wise leader, Johnson, the 68-year old position coach who has tutored a daunting eight first-round defensive linemen. The best evidence of Johnson’s wizardry could be seen on a recent Monday in the Ohio State football facility, as his players sat outside his office, eager to seek his counsel and grandfatherly advice.

Johnson saw a unique inquisitiveness in Young during his recruitment, as Young would constantly text him during recruiting to ask question normal recruits wouldn’t ask. What was it like recruiting this guy? Where do you see my weight? Where do you see me playing?

“He’s probably the most intriguing guy I’ve ever recruited,” Johnson said.

Chase Young (2) chases down the ball carrier during the Ohio State Buckeyes' win over the Florida Atlantic Owls. (Getty)
Chase Young (2) chases down the ball carrier during the Ohio State Buckeyes' win over the Florida Atlantic Owls. (Getty)

It has become a perfect marriage of teacher and student, as Hafley calls Johnson one of the best pass-rush coaches he’s ever been around. Young has evolved from a raw athlete to a nuanced pass rusher, mastering techniques like Johnson’s trademark side-scissoring the offensive lineman’s hands away to be able to turn his hips and flip to the quarterback. “That’s why some guys make $30 million and some guys don’t,” said Meyer, now a Fox analyst, of Young’s hips. “Chase has the speed, size and flexibility.”

Strength coach Mickey Marotti saw the final stages of Young’s evolution come this winter. He began paying forward the advice Nick Bosa passed onto him, motivating and teaching young linemen like former five-star Zach Harrison and redshirt freshman Javontae Jean-Baptiste. In the circle of life in the Buckeye defensive line room that Johnson calls “moving the yardstick,” Bosa still sends clips of good rushes to Young on Snapchat. Young passes on the message to the next generation.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day noticed Young’s off-field development a few days into summer camp, when the Buckeyes came out with low energy during pre-practice stretching. Without any prodding from coaches, Young got in front of the team and barked at them to follow his juice and energy.

“He’s prompted other guys to take the lead, and you see guys coming out of their shells,” Day said. “In this day and age, with this generation, that’s not easy to do.”

When asked about Young’s physical dominance, Marotti keeps steering the conversation back to his personal attributes. Marotti teases Young that he needs a “hair net” for his blond locks. Young shoots back by poking fun at Marotti’s size-12 feet, abnormally large for a man of modest height. Marotti jokingly calls Young a “newscaster politician,” as their conversations veer to topics like the secrets of Marotti’s marriage. “It’s really fun,” Marotti says. “He’s very inquisitive, it’s like he’s a grown-up.”

Young isn’t naïve to the NFL riches that potentially await him in the upcoming months. He went on YouTube before the season to learn to meditate to help with focus. “What he’s doing right now, he’s leaving a legacy,” Day said. “In a day and age when people get caught up in what’s next, he really wants to leave a legacy here. That makes him special.”

Young’s special NBA connection

Greg Young beams when relaying the genesis of one of his son’s best pass-rushing attributes, a first-step toward that Marotti calls “ginormous.” Greg declares: “The first step came from basketball.”

Young transferred to DeMatha, the erudite school outside Washington D.C., midway through his sophomore year in 2014. The move came primarily because of his football potential, but he also played one season of JV hoops and one on varsity. That coincided with Fultz’s senior season of 2015-16, around the time he’d emerged as a favorite to become the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

Young’s time playing basketball for veteran coach Mike Jones won’t invoke memories of DeMatha legends like Danny Ferry, Victor Oladipo or Adrian Dantley. But Young says he entered high school at 5-foot-6 and still was growing into his body. “I definitely had to struggle,” Young said. “I wasn’t always this big, this fast in high school.”

Young backed up Josh Carlton, a 6-foot-11 forward who has gone on to become a starter at UConn. Jones insists that Young earned more playing time than he was given, but Jones said he wanted to showcase the players who specialized in basketball to help their futures. Even then, Chase’s football future was clear.

“Chase was a luxury,” Jones said. “I don’t say that negatively at all. If we needed someone to go into the game and knock the snot out of someone, we’d put him in. But he was a much better player than that. His role for us was definitely not consistent with what his ability was.”

Markelle Fultz and Chase Young look on before a DeMatha Catholic High School basketball game. (Photo credit: Mike Jones)
Markelle Fultz and Chase Young look on before a DeMatha Catholic High School basketball game. (Photo credit: Mike Jones)

That role meshed philosophically with how Greg taught Chase to play, as he wanted his son to test opponents by fouling them as hard as possible early in the game. “They’re either going to want to fight you,” Greg reasoned, “or they’re going to cry.”

Jones recalls Young accepting his role, admiring how both he and his family never complained about playing time. Jones remembers Young just as fondly in the classroom, as Jones teaches public speaking at DeMatha. He complimented Young’s engagement in the class — Young would be the first to offer concise feedback or say, “Yo pay attention,” before a classmate’s presentation. “When he said it,” Jones said with a laugh, “everyone straightened up and fixed their ties.”

Fultz and Young, who were friends prior to DeMatha, still stay in close touch. They trade texts, including mutual support, as they share a unique bond. “I always tell him,” Young said, “it’s a matter of time before he gets healthy and it’s a wrap for the whole NBA.”

Fultz has gone through what Young is facing, and he’s told him to keep his circle tight.

“[I want to make sure he] doesn’t let all the hype and stuff get to him, which I don’t think will happen,” Fultz said. “He’s a humble young man who works extremely hard. I tell him to be himself and watch the people around you.”

That giant first step for Chase Young is leading to his scintillating final steps, as collegiate glory and professional riches all loom within reach. As he aims to meet his old teammate atop a different draft, Chase Young is secure in acknowledging who guided him there one pushup and laundry load at a time.

More from Yahoo Sports: