Exclusive: Alabama football's Bryce Young shares journey from Cali kid to Heisman Trophy winner

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

NEW YORK – The field sits about 2,800 miles and nearly two decades away from the place and time where Alabama football quarterback Bryce Young accepted the Heisman Trophy. 

Trees and homes surrounded the spot in Pasadena, California. White lines weren’t included. Just cones on the grass surface that covered about 40 yards. Eight kids only a few years old lined up for each flag football team.

For a play to be considered good, that meant a kid ran the correct way. 

“I was just running back and forth across the field, smiling and having fun,” Young told The Tuscaloosa News during a sit-down in New York before the Heisman Trophy ceremony. 

On that 40-yard field, playing YMCA flag football, a future Heisman winner’s football journey began.

The experience in New York that Young had this weekend was a byproduct. The ceremony, held in the hall filled with portraits of all past Heisman winners, overlooking Columbus Circle and 59th Street, was a reward. The evening when Young accepted the Heisman Trophy was a milestone.

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All are the result of a small beginning. Every kid who strikes the Heisman pose on an obscure field has one. Few, however, manage to turn their meager start into the biggest award in college football. 

“Even through elementary school and middle school, you always have dreams,” Young said. “A lot of times things always feel so far from reality. It’s something you see on TV or something you hear about. But for a moment like this, for me to be at a venue like this, for it to be real, it truly is a blessing.”

The Heisman wasn’t on Young’s mind when he was running around on that field as a 3-year-old. College football wasn't either. 

“On the weekends, it was cool to just run around,” Young said. “I had a cool little friend there. Just play with friends. Run back and forth. It was fun. I just liked that feeling.”

In fact, he needed it. His parents, Craig and Julie Young, had to find ways for him to use his energy.

Like her son, Julie was a hyperactive child, but her parents never yelled at her because of that. Julie and Craig made the decision to parent their son in a similar way. They decided to focus instead on creating ways for him to be active. 

“Her parents didn’t break her spirit,” Craig told The Tuscaloosa News.

YMCA football was one of those early ways. Before Young was old enough for that, he had a ball to throw in his crib. They placed small hoops around the house. From a young age, Young also did some cone work.

“But it wasn’t like this whole Rocky Balboa thing where we were trying to make an athlete,” Craig said. “It was literally fun so he wouldn’t tear up our house.”

“He would be jumping on the couches forever,” Julie added.

To prevent the Young house from looking like it had been ravaged by a new puppy, his parents gave Young drills but introduced them as fun activities. The future quarterback channeled his energy into those.

By 3, Young could already throw a football. 

So when he trotted onto the field for the first organized football of his life on that Pasadena field, Young gave his coach, Craig, the option to throw it when just about everyone else just ran.

Even then, Young’s hand-eye coordination, ability to stop and start and propensity for making people miss showed through, his parents said. They were impressed but certainly weren't about to label him a future Heisman winner. 

“Obviously, we didn’t project all this,” Craig said.  

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As his time in organized football progressed, Young said he took the game more and more seriously. He worked with a quarterbacks coach at 5. Once Young got to elementary and middle school, he continued to take the next steps. He began training in the offseason and searching for ways to get better, seeking ways to be around the best. 

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, another Heisman finalist, was one of those people. They met at a camp in middle school. Then in eighth grade, Young’s recruiting started with an offer from now Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, then at Texas Tech.

Young has been on a rocket to stardom ever since.

“I wouldn’t say there’s one specific time where I was like, ‘This is where it snapped,’” Young said. “It was just gradual.”

He can pinpoint where it started, though. 

That residential field, about 2,800 miles away from where he became the first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman. 

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