When his moment arrived, Landon Young almost missed it.
The true freshman offensive lineman was off on the Kentucky sideline yapping with another backup about the play that had just happened.
It wasn’t until Young caught a glimpse of starting left tackle Cole Mosier being tended to by the UK training staff on the Jumbotron that Young even realized his time had arrived.
“I was like, ‘Well, this is my moment. This is when I need to step in and fill the spot I’ve been working so hard for all the way through camp, through summer and through the first part of the season,’” said Young, a former star at Lafayette.
If the coaches had any concerns about throwing a true freshman in at left tackle on the road at Florida in his first game action, they didn’t say so.
In fact, they said just the opposite this week as Young prepares for perhaps his first start for Kentucky on Saturday against New Mexico State.
“He showed the talent that we knew he had for a young guy,” Coach Mark Stoops said of Young, a 6-foot-7, 305-pound player rated a five-star by two recruiting services.
What better to learn from than one of the hardest places to go in as a true freshman? Just being able to go in there is sort of an eye-opener.
“Obviously getting thrown into the mix at left tackle in The Swamp when you’re getting beat is not exactly how you want to break somebody in, but he really showed who he is and the player that he’s going to be,” Stoops continued. “He showed flashes of some real talent. It comes with some experience and strength, but he showed some good things.”
There’s been no timeline offered on a return for Mosier, who injured his right ankle and was in a walking boot Tuesday, so Young has been getting a majority of the reps with the first team as the Cats (0-2) prepare for a game with New Mexico State.
“It’s something we’ve been getting him ready for ... through training camp and through the first couple weeks,” offensive line coach John Schlarman said of putting Young in against the Gators. “When his number got dialed up, there was no hesitation, put him in there. And I thought he did some good things.”
UK’s depth at the tackle spots got thin in a hurry when George Asafo-Adjei, who is listed as the backup right tackle and right guard, did not make the trip to Gainesville while battling his own injury.
But the sophomore was back at practice this week and is an option for a three-tackle rotation that includes Kyle Meadows (starting right tackle) and Young.
Kentucky had enough options that they could’ve chosen not to send in Young at Florida, Schlarman said. They felt like he was ready, though, and wanted to see what he’d do against elite Southeastern Conference linemen.
“With the practices he’s had in recent weeks, we felt like he was ready to go in there and see how he did in a game situation,” Schlarman said.
Young admitted he was a little bit nervous, but he got over that quickly.
“What better to learn from than one of the hardest places to go in as a true freshman?” he said. “Just being able to go in there is sort of an eye-opener.”
Despite the loss, the Kentucky coaches were pleasantly surprised.
“A true freshman coming in and being in that situation, I thought he did a fine job, I really did,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “I thought he competed. He didn’t look like he had deer in the headlights. He embraced it and he made some mistakes, but that’s what’s gonna happen.”
Young learned that he has a pretty good grasp of the playbook, saying to himself: “Man, I can definitely do this,” a few times in the loss to the Gators.
And when he went back and watched the film with some of the more veteran players, he saw plenty of opportunities to get better. He pointed to some issues with his technique and knowing the steps against an outside zone and an inside zone among other intricacies.
Those are all things he can fix, Young said.
“There were a couple moments that were like, ‘Welcome to the SEC,’ but besides that, it was just fun to be able to experience it and be able to work with the guys on the line,” he said.
Young wasn’t the only offensive lineman to see his first significant action Saturday in The Swamp. Logan Stenberg, a 6-6, 318-pound redshirt freshman from Madison, Ala., was by Young’s side at left guard for much of the game. Bunchy Stallings spent time at guard in the second half as well.
“Logan Stenberg did some really good things when he got in there a little bit later in the second half,” Schlarman said, noting that Stenberg was in on the Cats’ lone score on the Jojo Kemp touchdown.
“He got in there and mixed it up,” Schlarman continued. “He pulled around there and cleaned up, making a hole for us to get through. Did some really good things, things we can work with moving forward.”
New Mexico State at Kentucky
4 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network alternate channel)