Three running backs have left the Texas Longhorns football program since mid-December. Toneil Carter opted out of the program weeks before Texas’ Sugar Bowl showdown with Georgia. A little more than a month later, Kyle Porter and Tristian Houston each entered their names into the transfer portal, as well, all seemingly in search of an increased role.
Daniel Young, however, did not leave.
On the surface, it seemed quite possible that he, too, would try his talents elsewhere after his role regressed considerably from his first to second seasons on the Forty Acres. After entering 2017 essentially buried on the depth chart, Young capped his freshman campaign with five consecutive starts and led the Longhorns running back room with 81 attempts for 373 yards and three touchdowns. At the very least, it appeared as if Young had emerged as a key building block for Stan Drayton and the Texas staff, but shortly thereafter, the summer arrivals of highly-touted true freshman Keaontay Ingram and grad transfer Tre Watson saw Young, presumably the starter-to-be, slip to third-team touches by the time the 2018 slate arrived.
A mere 42 carries for 153 yards and another offseason later, yet Young remains in a strikingly similar position to where he was at this point last year — as the third option and trailing a true freshman, only this time, the fresh face belongs to Ingram’s backup, Jordan Whittington.
Now amidst an era in which the transfer portal offers an easy exit for athletes eyeing another opportunity, why not travel the same road that led Carter, Porter, and Houston away from Austin just months ago?
“I decided to stay at Texas because Texas has a lot to offer, and it’s all about the grind,” Young told the media on Thursday. “You’ve just got to put your head down and work.”
To this point, putting his head down and working hasn’t exactly netted the most favorable results for the junior running back. Young’s carries were cut nearly in half last season, down to 42 from his 81 as a freshman, and he finished with 100 fewer attempts than Ingram. Between the hype surrounding Ingram and Whittington, and quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s monumental role in the running game, carries could once again prove few and far between. So save for any injuries, Young will quite possibly be left with what’s leftover again in 2019
What now? Well, keep working.
“Everything happens for a reason. Everything is for a purpose,” Young said of his lack of carries last season. “I don’t really worry about playing time because again, I’m here to play, not decide playing time. So I just work on things that I need to work on and if I’m not playing, there’s something else that I need to work on.”
Whether or not the work he’s putting forth ultimately pays off in the form of playing time remains to be seen, but Young is working.
He re-worked his frame throughout the offseason to become leaner, trimming five-to-seven pounds from his previously listed weight of 225. From the outside looking in, one could argue that reducing his weight is counter-productive for Young’s often-projected role as a third-down, goal-line bruiser back, but internally, he doesn’t envision things that way.
When asked on Thursday if he fits the description of a short-yardage option, Young disagreed and said he’s working to become a complete ball-carrier.
“It’s not really my place to think about other predictions made of me,” Young said. “I’m just worried about the internal, worried about what I’ve got to work on.”
“You never want to have a weak spot. You always want to work on every aspect of the game,” he added said. “So I don’t limit myself to one aspect of anything.”
Even should Young develop into a complete back, the tandem of Ingram and Whittington — which Young had high praise for — may very well mean that he’ll be relegated to third-team and situational reps.
In that case, how can Young ensure that his next season is different than his last?
“By keep getting better. Just keep embracing the grind, 1-0. Just keep being a good teammate. That’s pretty much all I focus on.”