Byron Young spends his Sundays defending counters, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was working behind one.
The rookie linebacker has stepped up on the Los Angeles Rams’ defense this season. At 25 years old, he is older than most first-year players in the NFL, and an atypical stop on his football journey helped get him to the league.
Young played high school football at Carvers Bay in Hemingway, S.C., about 30 miles from his hometown of Hemingway, but was hardly recruited by any colleges after graduating in 2017. He soon found himself in Columbus – Georgia, not Ohio – working at a Dollar General.
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The retail gig was certainly a detour for Young, as he spent more than a year there before walking on to play JuCo at Georgia Military College in 2020. Still, it was a place that helped him mature into a future NFL player.
“I'd say just being a hard worker and being somebody that's really disciplined,” said in an interview with NBC about what he learned at Dollar General. “I was really disciplined at that job and showing up on time and being reliable and everything. Just building on my work ethic. I feel like it really kept me humble and made me a harder worker.”
Once he got to Georgia Military, he said his NFL aspirations “became real.”
He played one JuCo season before transferring to Tennessee. He thrived at the SEC school, leading the Volunteers in sacks in 2021 (5.5 sacks, tied for first) and 2022 (seven sacks), and was named to the 2022 All-SEC First Team by the conference’s coaches.
Young was then invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. His 25th birthday soon followed as he continued to prepare for the draft, where he would be one of the oldest players in his class. A player’s age can sometimes be a deterrent in the mind of NFL scouts and front offices, but Young saw his as an advantage.
“That was kind of hard to deal with, but I'm thankful for my age and where I'm at because I feel like versus a lot of guys, I'm probably more humble and disciplined and mature, and I feel like that goes a long way,” Young said. “It goes a long way in life. I've been in the real world and I've definitely seen a lot. I've been through that and I feel like that is definitely one of the key things I have coming into this league.”
On the second day of the draft, Young heard his name called with the 77th overall pick and learned that he would be joining the Rams. He got to start in his NFL debut against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 and stepped onto the field wearing a number with added significance.
“Wearing No. 0 is just a testament to everything I've been through and my journey,” he said of his jersey number, which became available for NFL players in 2023. “I wanted zero at Tennessee, but I couldn't get it. I had an opportunity to get it here, so I got it.
“But just always reminded myself to just assemble where I came from and the amount of people that really supported me outside of my family. I didn't really have nobody that was there for real outside of my family.”
Young grew up the youngest of 13 siblings. His family environment provided him with a role model who displayed a work ethic that would translate to Dollar General and the NFL.
“I see my mom, watching her everyday working, working hard, not complaining and always doing her best to give us everything we needed. … That's my motivation every day,” Young said. “I think about her and I think about how hard she was working. I used to watch her every day. So it wasn't easy to just watch her do that and not be able to help. So now it definitely helps a lot. And she's always been my biggest motivator and always been by my side and never stopped.”
Family is top of mind when Young thinks about his future. He said he wants to play at least 10 years in the NFL, and off the field he hopes to start a resource program while serving as an inspiration for his nephews and other kids.
“Really making it to the NFL. That's what I'm most proud of, honestly,” he said. “And I'm proud of myself for being a trendsetter for my nephews, my family, my friends and for the kids around that. (It) just shows them that it could be done. That's really the thing I'm proud of, that they could see that it could be done as someone that they look up to as an uncle.”
Even though Young plays in front of millions of people across the world each week, he still hasn’t forgotten about his Dollar General roots. He said he still keeps in touch with some of his former co-workers and offered advice for people who may be at an in-between spot in their lives.
“I just tell them don't be in a rush,” Young said. “It's a process and you don't have to get to your career the next day. You just could keep doing what you're doing and just be patient. Keep a positive mindset. I say don't think negativity. Just stay positive and just always believe that you're going to get there one day.”