INDIANAPOLIS — Long before the professional millions had been promised and Instagram stalked their styles, Chase Young and Markelle Fultz were high school basketball teammates at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland.
A friendship born of bus trips, layup lines and late nights at local community centers years before is on the cusp of coming full circle. In 2017, Fultz became the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft after playing a lone season at the University of Washington. His old pick-and-roll partner eventually chose playing football full time, and after three years at Ohio State, he projects at the top of the 2020 NFL draft.
“We’re two competitors,” Young told Yahoo Sports at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday. “He always said he was going to go No. 1 in the NBA draft. I always tell him, ‘You’re not going to be the only one.’ I’m going to go No. 1 in the NFL draft. God willing, I can fulfill that.”
It’s unlikely that their career symmetry will have the storybook ending to the conversation that Young calls “our little bet.” Young is expected to go No. 2 to the Washington Redskins, as his old Buckeye teammate, Joe Burrow, appears fated to end up in Cincinnati as the top pick.
There’s still an overwhelming sense in the NFL scouting set that Young is the best available player in the draft, the surest best for a star player, smooth transition and eventual franchise cornerstone. Young is the rare top-caliber player who’ll go No. 2 in the NFL draft, as he’s been hyped by LeBron James, mentored by Fultz and will now start his career chasing the Bosa brothers from behind.
Young showcased his poise and ease in the spotlight on Thursday at the combine, flashing the halogen grin and confidence that make it easy to project him as the face of a franchise.
“I definitely think I’m the best player in the draft,” Young said.
Long line of Ohio State D-linemen
Young is a 6-foot-5, 264-pound defensive end with a body that appears to be chiseled out of marble. He led the nation with 16.5 sacks, despite missing two games from a suspension stemming from an NCAA issue.
Young made a giant leap from his sophomore to junior season, both in production — 6.5 more sacks — and in leadership. He showed the rare duality that NFL franchise players need — disruptive enough to wreck a game plan and charismatic enough to get on his knees and horse play with the assistant coaches’ kids after practice.
“His skill set and makeup translate because he does so many things well,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “Obviously, pass rushing is his forte. That’s so big in that league. He can rush with power, has good quickness and the toughness to play the run. He has the right makeup and high motor.”
And he grew up at Ohio State with high standards. Since 2015, eight Buckeye defensive linemen have been selected in the NFL draft. That includes NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa (2019) and his older brother Joey (2016), who project as a Pro Bowl tandem at defensive end for the next decade.
Former Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer told Yahoo Sports on Thursday that Young contains the highest upside of all of those linemen, including the Bosa brothers.
“In my opinion,” Meyer said, “he’s the most physically gifted of all of them. That’s a profound statement.”
Young has long resisted comparisons, although earlier this season, Nick Bosa likened his get-off and speed-to-power rushing ability to Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack.
“I try not to really put myself up next to a guy,” Young said. “I try to be the best Chase Young I can be.”
Young impressed Nick Bosa during the two years they overlapped at Ohio State with his willingness to learn and professionalism. All Buckeye defensive linemen swear by coach Larry Johnson, the veteran craftsman who lives by the mantra that he doesn’t coach kids, he invests in them.
“They groom you as a man and not just a player,” Young said.
Young went deep on the coaching staff there, thanking legendary strength coach Mickey Marotti, director of player development Ryan Stamper and delivered multiple soliloquies for Johnson, who is nearing age 70 yet still in his prime.
“I feel like Coach J, he goes out of his way to not just teach us how to be the best player, but the best man off the field,” Young said. “I’ll continue to perfect my technique, the tool box that I have now, I know that it’ll bring me success in the NFL. That’s one thing that I took from Nick and Joey.”
Why the Redskins are a good fit
In a way, Young’s old teammate, Burrow, leapfrogging him for the No. 1 spot in the draft with his historic season at LSU may end up as a blessing. While both organizations are paragons of poor ownership, Washington brings some allures. It’s a first-rate market to develop into a star, as big sponsors aren’t exactly dying to capture the hearts and minds of Cincinnati.
Most important for Young, it’s home. It’s the place where Greg and Carla Young raised him in Cheltenham, Maryland, with strict discipline. Growing up, Chase Young washed his own clothes, didn’t have a television in his bedroom and didn’t get a cellphone until high school. There were mandatory Sunday mass, family dinners and rules on when he could grow out his dreadlocks (10th grade) and get tattoos (college). There were balls, baskets and sports in abundance, with no video games.
Young didn’t lobby for the Redskins, but did offer a window about playing for the team he watched Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor star for growing up.
“It’d mean a lot,” he said. “Playing in front of my hometown people, it’d definitely be a blessing.”
Fultz’s draft slot has remained an ideal for Young. But more important, Fultz has become a source of sage advice for navigating the awkward months between college and professional sports and beyond. The two met up after the Orlando Magic played in Los Angeles in January, and Fultz dispensed a few nuggets of wisdom.
“He told me right now, this time, to have the most focus,” Young said. “A lot of players get silly or goofy.”
He also gave Young the age-old advice to young professional athletes: “The first thing you have to learn is how to say no.”
Come April in Las Vegas, the onus will be on the Bengals to say no to Young. While it may mean losing some of the symmetry with Young’s bet with Fultz, it sets the stage for a remarkable homecoming.
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