By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa fans saw enough of Toren Young last season in a reserve role to know that he is a physical and violent running back who doesn’t shy away from contact.
You could almost say he runs angry because in a way he is angry.
The 5-foot-11, 221-pound Young approaches each day with what he calls a chip on his shoulder that came from being mostly overlooked as a high school recruit.
He grew up just a few miles from the Wisconsin campus in Madison, Wis., but never received a scholarship offer from the run-happy Badgers despite rushing for nearly 3,000 yards as a high school senior.
But it wasn’t just Wisconsin that passed on Young. Every school from a Power 5 conference except Iowa chose not to offer him a scholarship.
And though almost two years have passed since Young graduated from Monona Grove High School, the chip on his shoulder still remains and probably will forever. It pushes him every day to work hard so he can prove the doubters and naysayers wrong.
“I think it will always be motivation and I think that goes for anybody who is in that situation,” Young said Tuesday. “I think 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. I think that’s a chip that will be on my shoulder for the rest of my career.”
Young should have plenty of opportunities to prove the naysayers wrong now that Akrum Wadley and James Butler have used up their eligibility.
Young entered spring practice listed as the first-team running back and he received a rousing endorsement on Tuesday from new running backs coach Derrick Foster.
“Toren being a leader, I definitely lean on him a lot to manage the room as a player,” Foster said. “I try to give those guys some accountability and he’s the one I look for to make sure he takes on that role with full responsibility.”
The fact that Young, as a third-year sophomore, is the veteran in the room shows just how inexperienced Iowa is at running back. He credits Wadley, Butler and former Iowa running back LeShun Daniels, who used up his eligibility in 2016, for teaching him to be a leader.
“It’s definitely different now being the oldest running back in the room,” Young said. “I have more responsibility. I’ve got the younger guys looking up to me now the same way I looked up to thee three guys I mentioned before. It’s a good feeling, though, to be in that position and I’m excited about it.”
True sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin is listed second on the depth chart followed by redshirt freshmen Kyshaun Bryan and Cam Harrell, who switched from defensive back to running back this spring.
Iowa only has four running backs on scholarship this spring. The number will grow to five when true freshman Henry Geil, who is also from Wisconsin, joins the team this summer.
“Toren as crazy as it sounds 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. And I think 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, outside of football, in the classroom as well. So I think those guys look at Toren as a big brother type of leader because he does have a little more experience than they do.”
Young was Iowa’s third leading rusher last season with 193 yards on 45 carries. Kelly-Martin also showed flashes last season, gaining 184 rushing yards on just 20 carries as true freshman.
The hope is that Young and Kelly-Martin can form an effective one-two punch similar to what Wadley and Butler had last season and to what Wadley and LeShun Daniels had in 2015 and 2016.
“I think both of those guys give great effort and their attitudes are phenomenal,” Foster said of young and Kelly-Martin. “They come in every day ready to go to work.”
Young and Kelly-Martin have contrasting running styles that will test defenses in different ways. Young is to power what the 5-10, 200-pound Kelly-Martin is to finesse.
“He’s one of the quicker guys and makes a lot of cuts and he can break tackles,” Young said of Kelly-Martin. “I’m more of a north-south guy, a physical guy. I try to run through guys, so I think we complement each other pretty well.”
Young is using spring practice as a chance to become a more patient running back. He said there were times last season when he was too anxious and didn’t wait for the hole to develop.
“My biggest thing is just slowing things down because you see the guys who are fast and the game is faster,” said Young, who was redshirted as true freshman in 2016. “So you kind of want to move quickly and try to do things fast. But as a running back, you’ve got to slow things down and let plays develop.
“So that’s my biggest thing that I’ve been trying to work on this offseason and this spring, just kind of slowing things down and waiting for plays to develop.”
Barring an injury, it is reasonable to think that Young will make a significant impact this coming season because Iowa relies so much on its running backs to move the chains.
Second-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz also likes to use his running backs as receivers, and Foster said Young is the most consistent pass catcher among all the running backs.
Iowa gave Young an opportunity that other schools didn’t feel he was worthy of having and Young is now determined to reward the Iowa coaches for believing in him.
“I’m not really sure (why I wasn’t recruited harder), but I do know that I got my chance here and I’m very tahnkful and grateful for that,” Young said. “I felt like this was home right away when they offered me, and when I came to visit, and there is no place I’d rather be.”