#97 Bryant Young - The Heart and Soul of the 49er Defense

Mar 18, 2001 at 12:00 AM


As a fan of the 49ers it is very difficult not to be a fan of Bryant Young also. Bryant Young is a 29-year-old defensive tackle, which the 49ers drafted in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft. He has since become one of the most respected players, not only on the 49ers, but the whole league. Players, coaches and fans all have mutual respect for him as a player and as a person. Bryant Young has also become one of my favorite players in the NFL.

Bryant Young went to Notre Dame where he received Honorable Mention All-America status as a junior with 7.5 sacks. In his senior year he was also All-American with 67 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

In 1994 the 49ers traded up in the 1st round to draft the highly talented defensive lineman. During his first year with the 49ers Young was voted the NFL's Rookie Defensive Player of the Year with 49 tackles and 6 sacks. I was both surprised and impressed with Young's play and the impact he had on the team in his first season. His success was certainly helpful to the 49ers in getting to the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl.

In 1995 Young had an ALL-Pro season with 6 sacks in only 12 games. With Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield teaming up together in the middle of the 49ers defensive line, opposing teams were finding it very difficult to protect their QB and to open up holes for their running backs. In only their second season together, Young and Stubblefield, were being called the best defensive tackle tandem in the league. They both possess an explosive combination of speed, strength, quickness and intensity. Young's play was certainly making an impression on me since I was already drawing comparisons between him and Michael Carter, a former 49ers defensive tackle.

1996 was Bryant Young's first Pro Bowl season. He had 64 solo tackles, 11.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed and 2 safeties during that season. Young was also named the NFC Player of the Week after getting 3 sacks in a game against the St. Louis Rams. This has been by far his best season, statistically speaking.

Young was also given the 49ers most prestigious honor, The Len Eshmont Award, which is given to the 49er that best exemplifies courage and inspirational play. At this point in his career Young was proving to be a major force in the middle of the 49er defense. The 49ers defensive line was playing so well that opposing teams had a hard time deciding which player to double team with their blocking schemes.

In 1997 Young was troubled by injury and played in only 12 games. He ended the season with 37 solo tackles, 4 sacks, 17 QB pressures and 3 passes defensed. This season it was Young that saw the double teams by opposing team's offensive linemen. With Bryant drawing the double teams, other players were free to put pressure on the QB. Statistically, he may not have had a great season, but his play and intensity on the field were an inspiration to the other players on the team.

1998 saw Bryant Young having another Pro Bowl type year, until a devastating injury ended his season. In only 12 games he had 42 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks, 19 QB pressures, 8 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. He had a 6 game stretch where he had at least a 1/2 sack in each game.

Against the New Orleans Saints, he seemed to be at his best. In two games against them he had 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 5 QB pressures.

He was also presented with his second Len Eshmont Award by the 49ers. The respect he had gained from the players and coaches around him was truly amazing, as shown in the following quotes by Winfred Tubbs and Steve Mariucci.

"BY has that big heart. He's a real down-to-earth nice guy and you just don't see that attitude out of defensive lineman of that ability and that talent. You can say he's a mean guy by the way he plays, but nah.... he'd do anything to help you. He's just an example-setter for the whole team."

"When you start talking about Bryant Young... he's as good a football player as you're going to find at any position in the game. He's as hard a worker as you're going to find in any sport. He's a gentleman, he's a good husband, he's a good father and he's a class act. He's a very unique individual. He's a stud. You can only hope and pray that you can coach guys like BY in your career."  

On November 30th in a Monday night game against the New York Giants, Bryant Young went down with one of the worst injuries the NFL had seen in nearly a decade. As Young was bringing down Kent Graham for an apparent sack, teammate Ken Norton came flying in, helmet first, into his leg. The leg snapped forcing a complete break of both the tibia and fibula. While Young was being carted off the field on a stretcher he raised his arm in victory, as if he was saying, "Don't worry I will be back". Doctors later inserted a titanium rod to fortify the leg, leaving him with a noticeable bulge in his shin and a scar.

Bryant Young, much like Jerry Rice the year before, was determined to come back from this injury. He immediately began working out with the team trainers, Todd Lazenby and Jerry Attaway, as well as martial arts expert George Chung. He was working out even while his leg was still immobilized. Many people thought that this could be the end to a very promising career for the young defensive tackle. That was a thought that had never entered the mind of Bryant Young.

On opening day of the 1999 season Young was on the field for the opening snap, surprising everyone. It was the start to another Pro Bowl season, in which he had 37 solo tackles and 11 sacks. It was a season in which Bryant Young had gained the respect of all fans, players and coaches for his amazing courage and determination in coming back from his injury.

The 49ers presented him with his third Len Eshmont Award as well as the Matt Hazeltine Iron Man Award, given annually to the 49ers defensive player who best displays leadership, inspiration and productivity.

The NFL named him the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and presented him with the 1999 Ed Block Courage Award for his display of courage in overcoming injury and hardship.

The following quotes from George Chung, Winfred Tubbs and Jim Mora Jr. are examples of the admiration and respect that people had begun to feel for Bryant Young.

"It was absolutely miraculous the way Bryant came back from that to where he is today. I think most people that have an injury like that; it not only devastates them physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. That kind of injury can end a person. That's the kind of injury that ends people in dark rooms and feeling sorry for themselves and angry and bitter at their family the rest of their life, you know what I mean? You see movies like that. Bryant overcame that. He never saw that as an option. That's a testament to his character. That's why he's such an inspirational player and person."

"I don't think he's lost anything since the injury. In fact he has gained another element that has made him an even more forceful presence on the field and in the locker room. It's his attitude toward the game, his attitude toward each play. Me, going on to that field with that defense, I know I'm not going to loaf, I know I'm not going to see anyone else loaf, because I know BY is not going to loaf. He sets an example for the whole team not to give up at all. Ever."

"To see a guy come from an injury like he had, and just push and push like he did and also stay positive, people feed off that. He has set a standard for himself, and he never compromises that standard at all. The young guys see that and try to emulate it. That's inspiration."

Also in 1999 Bryant Young started "Young Dreams", a foundation that provides financial assistance to non-profit organizations, including children's charities, college scholarship programs, burn foundations and after-school programs. Once again showing his personal commitment to his surroundings and for those around him.

The 2000 season was a continuation of Young's dominating play as a defensive tackle for the 49ers. He did miss one game to injury but still finished the year with 9.5 sacks. On November 5th against New Orleans he had one of his best games with 10 tackles and 2 sacks.

In a season where the 49ers saw an overwhelming change in their defense, the one consistent thing was the outstanding play of Bryant Young. He was again awarded the Len Eshmont Award, making him the first player in team history to win the award four times.

He is the one mainstay on the 49er defensive line from their last Super Bowl appearance. The best player the 49ers could have to lead and teach all of the new young players on the defense, in my opinion. With the 49ers signing him to a long-term contract, it is likely he will be a 49er for his entire career. Bryant Young has been an inspiration to us all with his courage, leadership and general goodness as a person.

I would like to leave you with one last quote from the 49ers defensive coordinator, Jim Mora Jr. that sums up exactly how I feel about Bryant Young.

"He never, ever comes across with an air of a superstar, or a prima donna. You'd never know that he was a superstar. And he is a superstar. Make no mistake about that. He's the premier player at his position in the NFL."  
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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