Mark Story

For Landon Young, a year of pent-up pain to be unleashed Saturday at Kroger Field

UK football’s Landon Young talks about return to practice

Landon Young, a 6-7, 324-pound right tackle, talks about his return to Kentucky football practice after recovering from knee surgery.
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Landon Young, a 6-7, 324-pound right tackle, talks about his return to Kentucky football practice after recovering from knee surgery.

When five-star offensive tackle recruit Landon Young turned down a who’s who of college football titans to play for home-state Kentucky, he did it planning to be a part of games like the one UK produced last Sept. 8 at Florida.

That night, with the Wildcats offensive front controlling the Gators at the line of scrimmage, Benny Snell and Terry Wilson ran through and past Florida to give UK a 27-16 win in The Swamp.

Yet as Young’s UK teammates celebrated a victory that ended an embarrassing 31-game losing skid against UF, the former Lafayette High School star was watching on TV from his Lexington home — and trying not to cry.

“It almost brought tears to my eyes,” Young says. “Not just because I was so proud of my teammates, but because I couldn’t be there to be a part of it.”

When the Kentucky Wildcats open their 2019 college football season Saturday at high noon against the Toledo Rockets, there will be no player on the field carrying more motivation than UK’s starting offensive left tackle.

Kentucky football players Calvin Taylor Jr., Boogie Watson and Landon Young visited Korah, a town built around a landfill, in Ethiopia during May. They rode camels during their trip.

A season ago, the 6-foot-7, 321-pound Young didn’t even make it to the first game. A knee injury late in UK’s preseason training camp ended Young’s season before it began. “My meniscus came completely off the soft-tissue attachment. It was floating around inside my knee,” he says.

Don’t bother asking Young for details of Kentucky’s season-opening victory over Central Michigan a year ago.

“I was watching it on TV,” Young says, “but I was only a day or two out of surgery. I don’t remember a lot of that game because I was on some pain medication.”

The following week, Young watched his UK teammates finally throw off the hold of the mighty Gators with family and friends.

“Man, that one, that was rough,” Young says. “Had to sit there and watch that one with my knee propped up. At least I was a lot more coherent.”

However, that medication-free lucidity proved a mixed blessing, as it ensured Young felt every bit of the pain of not being a part of such a cornerstone Kentucky victory.

“My parents, my sister, a couple of my friends, my girlfriend, they were always checking on me during that game. ‘Are you all right?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’m really excited.’ But (not being a part of the win) really hurt,” Young says.

When Young and fellow, highly touted in-state recruits Drake Jackson and Kash Daniel signed on with UK in its 2016 recruiting class, they had a shared vision for what the Wildcats could become.

Kash, Drake and Landon
Paintsville’s Kash Daniel, left, Woodford County’s Drake Jackson, center, and Lafayette’s Landon Young, right, were in-state recruiting coups for Kentucky in its 2016 signing class. All three will be starters in 2019. Mark Mahan

“Our mission plan was to change the program,” Young says. “We worked to recruit better and better kids, get everybody’s mindsets on, sort of, the same track and get the negatives out of the program.”

Last year, as Kentucky went 10-3 and beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, that vision came to fruition.

It happened with Jackson starting at center and Daniel starting at middle linebacker — and Young mostly watching the games on TV or from the stands.

Young — whose affinity for the farm life sparks good-natured teasing from his fellow offensive linemen — uses a country analogy to describe what last season felt like for him.

“It was sort of like you were whittling this great wood statue and, all of a sudden, it got struck by lightning at the end,” he says.

For all the frustration he was managing, Young decided that, once his knee allowed it, he would use his unexpected redshirt year as a self-improvement platform.

“For seven months straight, while (the other UK players) were practicing, I was (weight) lifting,” Young says. “I hit the weights hard. I worked on my upper body. (I worked on) my hip strength, even, one-legged if I could. ... I really, really improved my strength over the offseason.”

Kentucky left tackle Landon Young, left, tried to block for running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) during UK’s 23-13 win at South Carolina in 2017. Alex Slitz

Even though he was not playing, Young says he still attended last season’s film sessions with the offensive line so he could stay mentally tuned in to the game.

While Young lost a chance to start on the most successful Kentucky football team in four decades, UK Coach Mark Stoops this week praised the tackle as someone who has taken “a negative and turns it into a positive.”

“Landon, he’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s more confident. He’s a year older. He looks really good. I’m really excited for him,” Stoops says.

On Saturday, it is hard to imagine any Kentucky football player will have more motivation than the big man wearing No. 67 at left tackle.

“I’m very ready,” Landon Young says. “I am really excited to get out there and show everybody what I can do, especially coming off that knee surgery.”


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Toledo at Kentucky

When: Noon

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Series: First meeting

Line: Kentucky by 12

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.