Land of 10 writer Tyler Donohue breaks down a Penn State recruit every Monday . In this edition, we evaluate safety commit Isheem Young. Be sure to check out recent analysis on receiver Justin Shorter, defensive linemen Judge Culpepper, Aeneas Hawkins and PJ Mustipher, running back Ricky Slade, tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz, and linebacker Jesse Luketa.
Philadelphia defensive back Isheem Young developed an early reputation as a player who punishes opponents. Long before he became a prized Power 5 prospect and Penn State commit, he built himself up as an intimidating competitor.
“I’ve always been a big hitter since I was younger,” Young told me before an April 30 camp. “I’ve never cared who has the ball or how big he is, that’s my mentality.”
Now nearing the start of his senior season at Imhotep Institute Charter High School, those impactful collisions match steadily improving pass coverage skills to create a balanced safety recruit. This 5-foot-10, 200-pound prospect provides the athleticism and aggression necessary to flourish in a defensive backfield.
Those are traits he’s carried for quite some time, and now Young seems to be gaining a better feel for strategy. While speaking with him during multiple camps this spring, it became apparent his confidence is at an all-time high regarding his ability to handle various duties.
That’s huge for a player who has spent much of his prep career in the spotlight. Young, who pledged to Penn State on July 18, holds nearly 30 scholarship offers, and former Imhotep coach Albie Crosby set a tone of substantial excitement around Young just midway through his prep career by comparing him to Sean Taylor, a legendary safety who starred for the Miami Hurricanes and Washington Redskins before he was killed in 2007.
Young doesn’t duck away from lofty expectations, referencing No. 6 overall 2017 NFL Draft pick Jamal Adams as his personal comparison during our conversation. I remember scouting Adams during his high school career. He had a size advantage over Young, but there were similarities in style of play.
That starts with a full-throttle approach in the pursuit of ball carriers. In the GIF below, Young is the missile flying in from the left side of your screen.
See how he pops right back up and looks at Imhotep’s sideline immediately after delivering the hit? That’s how you send a message to your teammates and opponents, creating a mental edge. These moments add up during the course of a game and can impact a squad’s will to compete at a high level for four quarters.
Young, already a state champion at Imhotep, is clearly the guy players turn to for leadership. It was evident during his junior campaign, and again in June when Imhotep journeyed to State College for a 7-on-7 tournament. He is the unquestioned linchpin of a defense that features other coveted recruits such as juniors Omar Speights and Tykee Smith.
A tremendous run defender, Young inflicts a lot of damage when surging into the box, and it’s a place he’ll likely spend plenty of pre-snaps at Penn State. Despite his aggressive nature, he does a solid job sustaining desired angles and typically avoids over-pursuing, which prevents opponents from slipping his grasp.
Perhaps just as important as the plays Young makes, the plays Young prevents play a crucial role in downfield coverage. I mentioned his reputation as an intimidator earlier, and that reveals itself most routinely on contested passes.
Whether they’d admit it or not, I’ve seen several receivers second-guess whether they should extend for a less-than-accurate toss while Young is nearby. A look at the GIF below should provide a strong indication of why this hesitancy occurs.
It’s worth noting that Young leads with his shoulder on the vast majority of these big hits. There isn’t a habit of plowing toward players with his helmet down, which would mean targeting penalties and potential ejections in college.
That’s always a risk with defensive enforcers like Young, but continued refinement of fundamentals under the direction of an experienced Nittany Lions staff will facilitate further progression in this department.
Now that we’ve established Young’s case as one of the most physical defensive backs in his class, let’s focus on pure pass-coverage skills. Young has developed an impressive feel for offensive flow, enabling him to anticipate and pick his spots for interception attempts.
He doesn’t often jump routes — an extreme risk for safeties since no one is behind to clean up their mess — and flashes excellent timing by driving through the receiver upon the arrival of a pass. Young recorded 3 interceptions last season, according to Philip Cmor of the Altoona Mirror, and consistently disrupts passing windows despite his lack of elite length.
I watched him register double-digit reps against fellow Penn State commit Justin Shorter ― a 6-4, 213-pound receiver and 5-star prospect — during multiple camps. Though he gave up six inches of height, no defender enjoyed more success versus Shorter than Young.
“My dad always says ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and I believe that would be the case for both of us as we develop at Penn State,” Shorter explained after a series of matchups. “He’s a tremendous defensive player.”
Potential Penn State teammates working against each other here?
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) April 30, 2017
Young’s development as a patient and persistent pass defender provides a promising indication that he may be ready to contend for an immediate role in Happy Valley. He’ll never be the largest guy in the Nittany Lions defensive backfield, but his downfield awareness and willingness to fight for positioning combine to create a safety that Penn State won’t want to keep sidelined long.
I also expect him to shine in special teams kick coverage, which is a great place to prove yourself as a college newcomer. These potential paths to playing time may tilt the odds in favor of Young avoiding a redshirt campaign next year.
Penn State secondary coaches Tim Banks and Terry Smith will inherit an evolving playmaker from Imhotep defensive backs coach Devon Johnson.
“The thing with him is he’s always been a hard-hitter, but I think what a lot of people are going to see a lot this year is his coverage ability,” Johnson told Daniel Gallen of PennLive in July. He really put in a lot of work this offseason. He’s working on his man-to-man coverage and things like that because they’ll probably be asking him to do a lot of that at Penn State, so I think you’re going to see him moving around a lot more rather than sitting in the middle of the field like he normally does.”
Young appears primed for his finest, and most diverse, season at Imhotep. I plan to attend the team’s first game ― a matchup Saturday with Harrisburg (Pa.) ― so stay tuned to Land of 10 for more on this dynamic Nittany Lions pledge.
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