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Chris Young finds redemption in the desert
Arizona State University senior Chris Young's journey from here to there has had its share of twists and turns.
Despite being a roundabout for Young – who plays in the 2013 Holiday Bowl on Monday as a starting linebacker for the No. 14-ranked Sun Devils – it has been a fruitful trip.
"It's been an opportunity that a lot of people don't have," Young said.. "Even if I don't get drafted [by the National Football League], I've had a great career in football, and I'll have a bachelor's degree and a very happy family."
In 2009, the way forward seemed clear for Auburn High School's standout senior running back and safety.
Not only were the Trojans poised for a run at a Washington State 4A title, but Young himself, scholarship in hand to play ball at the University of Washington, appeared ready to leap to the next level
A bad decision, however, sent Young down a different road, costing him his chance not only to be a Husky but almost derailing his football career.
On the eve of Auburn's first playoff game, Young and a couple of buddies got liquored up before heading to the school's homecoming celebration.
"I just got drunk," Young said in 2010 interview. "I don't know what I was thinking, just that I would have a little fun. But that little fun ended up costing me pretty much the state title. That's the way I look at it."
The school suspended him from playing football for the rest of the season, and the incident, coupled with poor grades and low SAT scores, cost him his ride to UW.
Rather than let his football dreams fade, however, Young enrolled at Arizona Western College in Yuma, a 2-year school.
And it was under the broiling desert sun when Young started to put it all together.
After two seasons as a Matador, Young – who as a sophomore had switched from safety to his current outside linebacker position after bulking up to 244 pounds on his 6-foot frame – got a chance to play ball at the Division I level for ASU.
"All the work definitely paid off," he said. "I couldn't have imagined myself being here. When I went to Yuma, it was pretty much on hopes and dreams. But it just made me realize that it was a valuable opportunity. Those two years helped me grow up as a person and an athlete. It made me try harder and take it very serious. It helped me look at football a different way and life. It just made me grow up as a person."
As a sophomore at Arizona Western, Young's play earned him honors as the Western States Football League's Defensive Player of the Year and a nod as a first team All-American.
His on-field performance and scholastic improvement earned him a look from ASU and an offer to play.
Despite his initial dreams to play as a Husky, Young said, he recognized his chance to play in Tempe was too good to pass up.
"When I went down to Arizona Western, I really wanted to come back home and play," he said. "Things didn't really work out and ASU was a better opportunity for my talents. Not everything really works out the way you want, but in the end it all works out, and I'm sitting here as happy as I can be."
This season Young was honored with a selection to the All-PAC-12 second team defense. He finished the regular season with 103 total tackles, 13.5 of them for a loss. He also had 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. On Monday, when the 10-3 Sun Devils take on 7-5 Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl in San Diego, he plays in his final collegiate football game
Young said he still hopes the game won't be his last as a player, but, if it is – his world will not crash.
"[The NFL is] a business, but I feel that I can try as hard as I can and see where that gets me," he said.
"I thought I could get out of everything when I was in high school, and that came around and bit me," Young said. "But it's a living lesson that I've learned, and I'm grateful to have had that chance. Now, I'm just working on myself and doing what's best for me and my family."
And if that road leads Young back home to Auburn, that'd be just fine with him.
"I'll look into coaching high school and maybe going back to [Auburn] and helping out with kids who are going through what I did," he said.