Donovonn Young Ready For More Work

Donovonn Young (UI SID)

Seven true freshmen made their debuts with the Fighting Illini football team Saturday, and more may join the list later. One of the first to see the field was promising running back Donovonn Young. Nearly overlooked out of high school, Young has the makings of another in a long line of outstanding running backs at the UI.

Donovonn Young knew he would play for Illinois against Arkansas State last Saturday, but he was still uptight about it going in.

"I was really nervous, but second half I was fine. I was hyped up and ready to go. I got a couple hits in, so I was good."

After gaining 39 yards in six carries, the focus has changed to making himself and his team better.

"Definitely. I had six carries, got a little experience. I think it was a good thing for me. I just have a lot of room to improve on, so it's back to the drawing board."

Young's big play was a 24 yard gain in the fourth quarter where he made a couple sharp cuts to get free. It gave him confidence for the future.

"I didn't even know I could make a move like that, so I may have some moves in store in the future."

He used a spin move to elude one tackler, although that was nothing new for the Katy, Texas, native.

"The spin move has been part of my repertoire for a long time, but I plan to add a couple more moves so I can do something out there."

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino gave him a chance for his first college touchdown on third and goal from the four yard line, but he managed only half the yardage.

"I had the nice run, I was hyped up. They gave me a chance to score, and I blew it. I remember coach telling me, 'If you want to be a big-time player, you need to make plays like that.' I took that to heart, and next time I'll have a different end result."

Young isn't the only freshman running back seeing varsity action. Josh Ferguson is the smaller, shiftier of the two backs. Wearing the numbers 5 and 6 respectively, Young says they have a name for the dynamic duo.

"We call ourselves, 'Five-Six in the Mix.' It's nice to have somebody like Josh that I can work off of. Josh is so fast, and he can do things that I can't do. It makes me want to improve on the things I can't do well. I think we compliment each other very well."

As to whether they continue to share time, Young leaves that to the offensive coordinator.

"It's totally up to Coach (Paul) Petrino, what he wants to do. I don't know what's going on, but I know Coach Petrino has all the answers."

The transition from high school was not that difficult for the 6'-0", 215 pounder.

"At Katy, we were like a small college in high school form. It's a little faster, but as far as meetings go and focus during practice, I think I've been well prepared."

Folks in his home town might not recognize him now despite putting up gaudy numbers as a senior last season. Determined to get in top shape after two years with a groin injury plus a broken foot, he worked with a personal trainer. He came to Illinois transformed into an exciting running back brimming with great potential.

"I was called not fast enough, not quick enough. But off season training got me where I needed to be. I think I'm a lot better than I was in high school, and I rushed for 2300 yards my senior year. I expect more now that I'm in college.

"In high school, I was a power guy because I didn't think I was fast enough to outrun a lot of guys. Now after being able to train in the offseason, I feel like I can bring speed and power."

He also got stronger, impressing the UI Strength & Conditioning staff immediately.

"I got my name on the board already for lifting accomplishments."

Illini coaches saw potential in Young even he didn't realize he had. Their confidence in him, offering him the same number as recent stars Mikel Leshoure and Rashard Mendenhall, helped give him the determination to prove them correct.

"When I was getting recruited, the coaches felt that I could live up to the tradition made by Mikel and Rashard. I have to work hard and live up to the expectations.

"They offered me the number 5. I knew that they thought I could do something special. I wanted to come here because they believed in me before I believed in myself. I think that I need to live up to the expectations. I like the pressure."

Young's father Cartrell was a standout running back at Katy also. He plans to make it to most if not all his son's games.

"It's a nice thing. Dad comes to all my games and supports me. I think he's just happy I'm getting to go to the next level, something he didn't get a chance to do."

The Young's have also become friends with Nathan Scheelhaase's mom and dad.

"We've become real close with the Scheelhaase's. My family has become their family."

Young may not have been highly recruited out of high school, but he found the right school for him. And the Illini may have uncovered a future star in the making.

"I just look at it as a blessing. I didn't get a lot of offers, but I feel like coming here was a blessing. I don't think I would be in the same situation at another place. It's nice to be able to come here and play in the first game."

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