By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Toren Young is obviously doing something right judging from the last two announcements from the Iowa football team.
It was announced on Monday that Young, a junior running back from Madison, Wis., would represent Iowa at the annual Big Ten football media day event next week in Chicago, along with senior quarterback Nate Stanley and senior defensive back Michael Ojemudia.
That honor is usually bestowed to a senior, or to a standout player, as with the case with former All-America linebacker Josey Jewell, who represented Iowa as a junior in 2016.
Stanley also represented Iowa as a junior at last year’s Big Ten media day event. But he was coming off a 2017 season in which he started every game and threw 26 touchdown passes.
And he plays quarterback.
Young, on the other hand, is coming off a sophomore season in which he only started three games and was ranked third on the depth chart at different points of the season.
Young still finished second on the team in rushing behind fellow junior Mekhi Sargent with 637 yards on 136 carries, but Young was hardly a star.
But maybe we should’ve seen Monday’s announcement coming, considering that Young is also the only non-senior to make Iowa's 2019 Leadership Group, which consists of Young and 18 of his senior teammates.
Iowa announced the Leadership Group last Wednesday, and that was the first sign that Young was making a strong impression this offseason.
Or was it?
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on at least two occasions this offseason has suggested or hinted that Young probably should’ve played more last season. Ferentz didn’t come right out and say it, but that was the impression he gave.
Young was part of a three-player rotation at running back last season with Sargent and the oft-injured Ivory Kelly-Martin, who started in the season opener against Northern Illinois and six games overall.
Young made some of his biggest contributions in the second half of games, including rushing for all 84 of his yards against Northern Illinois in the second half.
Iowa used the 5-11, 223-pound Young to wear down defenses in the second half, and to control the clock.
He is bigger and more powerful than both Sargent and Kelly-Martin, so that gives Iowa a different dimension.
Young is similar in size to former Iowa star running back Shonn Greene.
It still remains to be seen if Young can perform at a level anywhere close to where Greene climbed to as the recipient of the 2008 Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate running back.
But Young has certainly put himself in a position to contribute based on the amount of respect he seems to have with his teammates and coaches.
The Iowa players vote for the players on the Leadership Group. So for Young to be the only junior to make the group is the ultimate sign of respect.
Young also has made a strong impression on the Iowa coaches or he wouldn’t be heading to Chicago next week.
A strong case also could be made for having junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa represent Iowa at Big Ten media day. Epenesa in addition to leading the conference in sacks and making first-team All-Big Ten last season is also greatly admired by his teammates and coaches.
And yet, Toren Young still was picked to represent Iowa at Big Ten media day.
I don’t normally get into hyping or promoting players in the offseason, unless they really deserve it.
Young deserves some recognition just for what he has accomplished during the offseason because it’s a big deal to be the only non-senior on the Iowa Leadership Group and it’s a big deal to represent Iowa at Big Ten Media Day, especially as a junior.
Sargent started the final four games last season and was listed as the starter throughout spring practice ahead of Young.
Sargent is a quality player who brings versatility to the running back position. He is also a nice change of pace from Young, meaning they both should make significant contributions.
Maybe we'll even see Young and Sargent in the same backfield this coming season, or Young and Kelly-Martin, who is also a junior..
Nothing against Iowa's fullbacks, but with Young and Sargent in the same backfield, defenses would have to account for both of them as runners and receivers.
Young might never achieve stardom on the playing field, but there is more to being an Iowa football player than just having success on Saturdays.
Young has reason to be proud and motivated as he prepares for his junior season because he has the respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches.
And that means a lot.