The Young and the Restless: Part 1

Nola ChickCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2009

When you grow up in a family of seven brothers, you quickly learn tough lessons like overcoming disappointment and dealing with “harsh critics.” Usama Young’s been getting the “Bobby Brady” treatment for as long as he can remember.

But it’s those early lessons that keep him well-grounded, positive, and downright enthusiastic about being a defensive back in one of the most criticized secondaries in the NFL. You see, it’s not that he doesn’t hear the crowd’s boos when the Saints’ defense gives up those big plays. He just knows how to turn every setback into a motivating force to help him step up his game.

Young joined the Saints back in 2007. His first time on the field was against one of the most high powered and high scoring offenses in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts. Taking on Peyton Manning right out of the gate as a cornerback might sound about as fair as giving a dog trainer one of Michael Vick’s pit bulls his first day on the job. But for Usama Young, he couldn’t have scripted a better “welcome party” to the NFL.

“Even though we got beat, it was just wild to go back home and play in front of that crowd and my family. I mean, Peyton Manning’s one of the best quarterbacks of his day. Going out there and experiencing the NFL and seeing a sell out crowd in the RCA Dome…I was just up in the stands before the game looking around like 'I’m here.'”

Usama Young’s dreams of NFL success are the stuff of Hollywood. That point was proven when he was chosen to share his story in a commercial for the NFL during this year’s Super Bowl. In the commercial, Young recalled working as a vendor at the stadium where the Redskins played. As a teenager, he imagined himself one day playing on that very field as a professional athlete. His moment arrived in the 2008 season, when the Saints took on the Redskins at Fed-Ex Field.

“I had a lot of family in the crowd. Remembering how I used to be up in those stands selling cotton candy and lemonade, this was what I dreamed about doing. Finally getting to be there, it was such a blessing.”

Young relived his emotional moment in a commercial which co-starred his dad. His father, who lives in Washington, (his mother is in Indianapolis), gets much of the credit for getting Young and his brothers interested in sports. He got a chance to thank his father by flying him out to LA to create their big primetime moment.

“They had both of us fly out and we were staying in a nice hotel and had a driver the entire time. It was just great to be able to spoil him and get him out on the west coast . He’d never been to the west coast before. It was a fun time enjoying it with him.”

While pops gets props for keeping Usama on the move, it was his brothers that taught him the value of thick skin.

“When you’re young, you want to play with your older brothers and you want to get in the pickup games with them and you want to be picked first not last. (And he admits to getting picked last more often than not.) They definitely got me more competitive. I always try to win in everything now. We can be eating some food and I want to finish first. Well, maybe not that but you know what I’m mean.”

Getting picked last isn’t exactly something Usama has to worry about when he plays football with his brothers nowadays. You see these days, he’s busy proving himself to a much tougher crowd: his coaches, his fans, and the media. And it’s not an easy task when you play on a defensive team that’s consistently ranked among the bottom of the pack.

“You gotta take it like a grain of salt. You know that people are going to talk and choose sides but you’re out there for a reason. When you’re out there, you don’t want to think about the negative. Everytime I’m out on the field, I’m thinking I’m gonna make a play. I’m thinking about what I’m gonna do after I make a play. I try to stay away from the scrutiny and the criticism that the defense gets.”

This season, Young faces a new coach and a whole new set of challenges. The Saints tapped former Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to steer their beleaguered defense from worst to first. We know Williams will have his hands full. But so will Young and the other players who now have to learn an entirely new defensive scheme.

“You never want too much of a change…change is tough. Being that I just got comfortable with the other defense now we’re bringing in something new, it’s kind of tough for some people. I just want to jump right in and get it going now.”

So do we Usama…so do we.

Young does have a few choice words for those among us who can’t resist the urge to constantly knock the Saints’ secondary. In part two of my interview, hear what he says in defense of the defensive backs. Also, things get personal when I ask Usama how he lets his hair down in the Big Easy. 

Stay tuned my fellow Who Dats…