'Like a magician': Defenders share what it's like to face Alabama football QB Bryce Young

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Dylan Kent propelled toward Bryce Young, but he only tackled air.  

Young was rolling out against Saint Mary’s High School in September 2018, and nothing was open. He decided to run, and Kent, a linebacker, chased.

He closed in on the sideline, but as he dove for Young, he missed.

“I remember him juking the heck out of me,” Kent said.

And Kent's not alone. 

Young’s slipperiness in the open field broke many tackles during his days as a quarterback at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. He helped the Monarchs win a state championship in 2018 with another appearance in 2019. Along the way, Young became the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class.

Now, he’s entering his sophomore year at Alabama and is projected to take over as the starting quarterback. Young only saw time in cleanup duty last season, so there are still many SEC defenders who don’t yet know what it’s like to face him.

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Those who do know are the high school defenders whose tackles he evaded, legs he outran and pass coverages he torched.

They have no shortage of horror stories.

“He’s like a magician,” said Colby Summa, a former Centennial outside linebacker. “You can’t let up on any play because I’ve seen him make plays where you think someone has him, but he wiggles out.”

Summa faced Young the first game of the 2019 season. During one snap, Summa set the edge as Young tried to scramble outside. The play looked dead.

Or so Summa thought.

With seemingly nowhere to go, Young cut, ran in the opposite direction and tossed a perfect lob pass as the receiver got both feet down.

“There’s no way any other quarterback would have made that throw,” Summa said. “It got to the point that I couldn’t even get mad. I just had to accept that’s what he does.”

Young tossed three touchdowns and an interception as Mater Dei won 42-12.

That score was closer than when he routed La Mirada 49-0 with four touchdowns and an interception in 2018.

Young’s most impressive play in that game might not have been any of the touchdowns but instead how he reacted to a safety blitz.

Each Mater Dei offensive lineman was engaged with a La Mirada pass rusher, allowing the safety to come free between the left tackle and guard. The Matadores looked to be in a prime position to sack Young.

Or so they thought.

Right as safety Tamir Johnson reached Young, the quarterback planted his front foot, spun and sent Johnson flying past.

Then Young stepped up and threw a 35-yard pass on the run.

“A lot of dual-threat quarterbacks, they’re quick to just run and try to make a play on their own,” said Jacob Franco, a former La Mirada safety. “Him, he’s not like that. He’ll get out of the pocket, and he will keep his eye on the receiver and see if anybody is open. At the last second, he’ll decide to run.”

And Young is dangerous running with any kind of opening.

Even when former La Mirada linebacker Brandon Nuñez took good angles when pursuing Young, the quarterback still proved slippery.

“He would just drive to the same angle I’m trying to run to and he would just go,” Nuñez said. “He was very fast.”

Young is known for his legs, but defenders quickly learn to respect his arm just as much.

During one snap, Summa was covering a Mater Dei receiver on a go route. Summa left little room for a throw, but Young managed to fit the ball into the tight window anyway.

“A picture came out after,” Summa said. “It looked like I got postered. Mossed, if you will.”

Pair that dime-throwing arm with Houdini-like mobility, and Young became a nightmare for most teams he faced in high school. He finished 15-3 at Mater Dei.

And defenses could seldom key on one player because of how Young played. During one snap, Franco had now-UCLA tight end Mike Martinez covered, and Young didn’t try to force it. He saw Franco, spun, moved out of the pocket and hit another receiver on a go route about 50 yards downfield.

Oct 3, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

“His ability to escape pocket pressure and remain composed and be able to make throws, I never saw anything like it,” said Dezmon Nash, a former Centennial nose guard.

Nash, when asked his advice for SEC defenders, said you have to disrupt Young and not let him get into a rhythm. Kent and Nuñez said watching a significant amount of film is needed in preparation. Franco said always stay on your man and keep contain. Summa said to try and get the ball out of Young’s hands.

Emphasis on try.

“When he has the ball in his hands,” Summa said, “he’s the most deadly player on the field. No matter what.”

Contact Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly