TALLAHASSEE — Before the success, there was doubt.
There was pain, as you’d expect when one breaks a kneecap.
And there was the very real possibility that Jordan Young was done with football.
A talented wide receiver from Conyers, Ga., Young emerged as a coveted prospect late in the recruiting process and chose Florida State over Tennessee on National Signing Day after going his entire playing career without a scholarship offer. The three-star recruit was among the members of FSU’s 2018 signing class to arrive in Tallahassee over the weekend.
Also a two-time state champion in the 110-meter hurdles, Young’s path from off-the-grid to coveted prospect is unconventional.
“I’ve been coaching for 12 years, Jordan’s story is probably one of the most unique stories I’ve been a part of as far as how everything played out,” said Greg Johnson, who was Young’s receivers coach at Heritage High as well as his hurdles coach.
At one point, when success eluded him as a junior, Young nearly quit football. Now he’s expected to immediately compete for playing time in Willie Taggart’s spread system.
Becoming a Priority
On a morning in January, Jordan Young was called into an assistant coach’s office at Heritage.
Up to that point, Young’s best scholarship offer was from Coastal Carolina, which just completed its first season at the FBS level. Valdosta State and West Virginia State — both Division II programs — offered as well after a stellar senior campaign in which Young accumulated 1,562 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
The coach told Young that the offensive coordinator from Tennessee, Tyson Helton, was on the other line. He informed Young that Tennessee was offering him a scholarship and bringing him up to Knoxville for an official visit.
“I was ready to give up and go to one of my coach’s alma mater, I was going to go to Grambling and call it a day,” Young said. “Once [Tennessee] came into the picture, everybody got a hold of me.”
Greg Johnson, who ran track at FSU in the mid-2000s, told Young through his senior year that the “floodgates will open” once one big school offers. Teams were previously reluctant to offer Young because he entered his senior year with a 2.19 core GPA and he hadn’t produced much on the field until 2017. Johnson tried to promote Young, but initially didn’t have much luck. He even sent some of Young’s clips to FSU’s previous coaching staff, but said they never took a look at his film.
Even without a proven track record, Johnson believed Young’s talent would eventually lead to offers. His 2017 highlight tape — entitled ‘ Welcome to the Abusement Park’ (“I needed something with a catchy name,” Young said) — was unfathomably impressive, consisting of 15 minutes worth of Young making one stunning play after another. He would run around defenders with the ball in his hands or jump over them to go get the ball, and made it look easy.
The film became the talk of the recruiting industry. How did a player this skilled go unnoticed until after his senior year?
Major programs were reluctant to make the first offer, but Tennessee finally made a move amid a coaching change.
Auburn and Florida State showed interest shortly after Tennessee’s offer. But without any other FBS offers, Young committed to Tennessee upon his visit.
Young didn’t begin playing football until his sophomore season. He started running track a few years earlier and was a natural, but football didn’t come quite as easy.
He did, however, show glimpses in 10th grade. Young recorded more than 200 receiving yards on a 1-9 team and primed himself for a breakout campaign as a junior under a new coaching staff.
Then came the season opener against Salem, an in-city rival. Young was targeted about 13 times and caught just one pass for two yards in a 14-13 loss.
The offense was supposed to run through him, but Young struggled with the pressure. After the game, he was devastated.
“It was bad,” Johnson said. “It took so long in the season to get him mentally back around.”
Johnson and other coaches worked to console Young the Sunday after the game, and early into the next week. He considered quitting, but Johnson convinced him to stick it out and remain on the team. Young stayed on and recorded 276 yards as the team’s No. 3 option, but seniors Adeolu Adeleke and A.J. Morton became the breakout players on offense as they each amassed more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Young described his junior year as “mediocre.” He had to wrestle with the notion of failure while watching others succeed, something he wasn’t accustomed to given his success as a track star.
Following the disappointing junior campaign, Young put his focus on track. He worked diligently to position himself as a state-title contender — he placed second in the 110-meter hurdles at the AAAAA state meet as a sophomore — and started using a personal trainer. But early in the spring, Young’s trainer asked him to pull tires on concrete as part of a drill. He slipped and his knee hit the ground, fracturing the bone right below the kneecap.
“It just killed my whole junior season,” Young said of the injury. “I had to humble myself and try to help other people on team.”
Young rehabbed rigorously and returned with two weeks remaining in the track season. He won regionals and qualified for the state meet. A week later, he completed the 110-meter hurdle in 14.3 seconds to win his first state title.
“Truth be told, he was going to give up on football all together and focus strictly on track,” Johnson said. “…That time taught him that he had to get it together, that this is it. He goes out, wins a region championship, a state championship and everything just clicks from there.”
Young’s confidence was at an all-time high entering his senior year.
In the classroom, he followed a strict plan to get qualified and did remarkably well on standardized testing.
He was all business on the field as well. In the opener, against Salem, Young caught four passes for 85 yards and a score. Success led to more success. The next week, he had five catches for 195 yards and four touchdowns. A week after that, he recorded 10 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
Young didn’t record less than 70 receiving yards in any of his 12 games as a senior.
“That potential was always there,” Johnson said. “There was a lot of positive affirmation, but it eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Valdosta State finally came through with Young’s first offer after his team lost in the playoffs in late November. Young recalled seeing scouts sprinkled throughout the sideline, but he couldn’t predict how many took notice of him.
Young jumped on the chance to play big-time football once Tennessee offered, committing on his official visit in late January. Johnson felt that Young was quick to make the decision given that other schools were beginning to show interest, but also recognized that Tennessee was the only school to offer Young.
Around the same time, FSU announced the hiring of Walt Bell as its offensive coordinator and David Kelly as its wide receivers coach. With an offensive staff in place under Taggart, FSU turned its attention toward Young. The staff gave Young’s film a look and quickly offered him.
“‘Why wasn’t this kid on the radar before?’” one assistant asked Johnson.
“He’s phenomenal. He’s one of the best, probably the best head coach in the nation,” Young said. “Him telling me himself that I have an offer, that’s what made me say I’m going to take a visit. Meeting the whole staff is what did it for me.”
Before then, Young was admittedly reluctant to take an official visit to FSU. He felt a sense of loyalty to Tennessee and didn’t want to flip. Johnson convinced Young that he owed it to himself to take a look at the Seminoles, even as Young asked him if he’d offer up that advice if it wasn’t his alma mater — FSU — that was in play.
“That was a hard conversation to have,” Johnson said. “‘Absolutely. As much as I hate Florida, if Florida told you to come take the visit, I’d tell you to take the visit.’”
Young went to Tallahassee on Feb. 2.
Less than a week later, he signed his National Letter of Intent with FSU.
“Going to the stadium was an amazing experience, with the [war chant] in the background. The atmosphere opened it up to me and showed me what greatness looked like,” Young said. “What made FSU the fit for me was the energy. Being around the team, it was real family oriented. It just brought so much passion being under a new coaching staff, it’s just renewed energy down there.”
Young can appreciate a shift in demeanor. It’s ultimately what helped him turn his career around.
Now, two years after contemplating the idea of quitting football to focus on track, Young has positioned himself to possibly play as a freshman for one of the country’s premier programs.
“They want me to be an impact guy early on, especially with the spread offense we run,” Young said. “I’m just trying to do the same thing I did in high school.”