Published: November 4, 2013
Zach Young never wonders how he survived 677 carries during his Doherty High football career. Yes, he's faced an assortment of dangerous defensive characters during his three seasons as the Spartans' featured back.
His big brother, Ian, carefully prepared Zach for this sanctioned violence.
"My brother and his friends were always beating me up," Young said in his deadpan voice. "That played a big part."
Maybe, I thought, Ian would contend he had been gentle to little brother.
"Yep, that's right," Ian said, immediately confirming Ian's description. "I'm a big brother, I got to do that. I got to beat him up. You got to be the big brother. He's got to be tough. He can't grow up not tough."
Let's be clear: Ian's tough stuff never crossed the line. It's obvious Ian and Zach love each other like, well, brothers, and they are still working side by side.
On Friday night at Garry Berry Stadium, Young delivered another dazzling night, running for 346 yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-35 mauling of Gateway in the Class 5A playoffs. This season, Young has rushed for an astounding 2,309 yards with an 8.19 per-carry average and 38 touchdowns.
Late in the third quarter, Young took a handoff at his 6-yard line, slipped through a small hole and discovered wide-open spaces.
As Zach sprinted toward the end zone, Ian ran down the sideline. Ian, a 2011 Doherty grad, serves as the Spartans running backs coach.
"Keep going, brother," Ian shouted at the outer limits of his lung power. "Keep going."
Zach obeyed, sprinting 94 yards for a touchdown.
"It's just a special feeling," Ian said, pride rising in his voice. "Seeing my little brother do good things."
Zach ranks as the lead actor in a feel-good high school sports saga. In his first two seasons, Young excelled as the star of downtrodden Doherty teams. He gained 2,348 yards as a sophomore and junior, but these were dreary days. The Spartans lost 17 of 20 games.
Still, Young refused to surrender an unlikely vision for his senior season. He saw his teammates working diligently in the weight room. He saw his coach, David Joyce, devising fresh, tricky, complex offensive schemes. He saw victories, even through the haze of all those losses.
"I felt, going in, we had a chance to turn it around," he said.
He was right. Young has carried the Spartans to an 8-2 record with seven of those victories by 20 points or more.
Joyce has watched Young's dominating season with proud eyes but he's not surprised. Not a bit. Joyce traveled to Doherty after the 1-9 2011 season - Young's sophomore season - to interview for the head coaching job. Joyce wasn't sure he wanted the job.
Until he saw video of Young running with the football.
"I saw Zach on film and it was a done deal," Joyce said in the drawl of his native Arkansas. "I knew he was a special talent."
Joyce's admiration for his star steadily increases, and this esteem is not based solely on football. Joyce often refers to Young as a "rock star" and a "superstar" but this is a star with a surprising twist.
"He is a 'yes sir, no sir' young man," Joyce said. "If I wanted him to take my trash out, he would take my trash out. He's just a unique combination of character and hard work and talent."
College coaches have been slow to recognize this unique combination. Young's 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame is not as overwhelming as his statistics. Western State and CSU-Pueblo have shown interest, but that's about it.
College coaches should examine video of that 94-yard run. Coaches would see his jubilant brother running down the sideline. They also would see Gateway's Octavis Styles with an angle on Young.
Styles is fast, but he discovered Young is faster.
"I had a good angle on him," Styles said. "I was impressed how he turned on that speed, that breakaway speed."
Even Young might have trouble outrunning his next opponent. Doherty will run on ThunderRidge's home field Friday night as severe underdogs.
But maybe, just maybe, a running back who endured his brother's rugged devotion and 17 losses in two seasons and 677 carries can keep his high school career alive one more week.