Most seasons, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the best quarterback in college football. The trophy is designed to be given out to the best player in college football, but it rarely actually happens that way. Quarterbacks get all the glory and every other position has very distant chances of being recognized in the Heisman Trophy race. This season, the best player in college football is Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.
High School and Recruiting
The young star started his high school career at Pallotti High School before transferring to DeMatha. Young was a dominant athlete at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland. He played with Markelle Fultz on the famed basketball team at the high school and dominated on the gridiron. The football team won the state championship when Young was a senior, amassing a 12-0 record. Young had 19 sacks in that season.
His play during high school allowed him to be a U.S. Army All-American and to be one of the best players in the 2019 recruiting class. He was ranked seventh in his class by 247sports.com. Players ranked ahead of him in the class include Cam Akers, Najee Harris and Alex Leatherwood. Young had offers from just about every college, including Alabama and Clemson, but he chose to go to Ohio State.
Freshman and Sophomore Seasons
As he entered Ohio State, Young joined a very talented defensive line group. Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes all were future pros getting playing time on the defensive line when Young enrolled at Ohio State. The Buckeyes decided not to redshirt Young and he got playing time in nine games. Through those nine games he totaled 3.5 sacks as a rotational player. Ohio State beat USC in the Cotton Bowl to conclude the season.
For Young’s sophomore season, Ohio State was set to have one of the best pass-rushing duos in a long time with Bosa and Young rushing the quarterback. Bosa went down with a core muscle injury against TCU and decided to sit out the rest of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft, in which he was the first overall pick. Young had to step up and he did so with 10.5 sacks on the season. Ohio State was able to qualify and win the Rose Bowl against Washington, with some of the credit going to Young. His play earned him Second Team All-Big Ten recognition following the season. In his first year at Ohio State he got his feet wet and in his second he saw a big jump in productivity. That was enough for fans to shower hype onto Young for his junior season.
With Bosa gone to the NFL, Young started this season off as the star for Ohio State on the defensive line. He started the season off with some consistent play, sacking the quarterback 1.5 times per game for the first two games, then two times per game for the next two games. Those games were against Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio) and Indiana, which are all teams that could still make bowl games, if they haven’t qualified already.
Over the next three games of the season, Young totaled 2.5 sacks. Those games were against Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern. Through seven games to start the season, Young had 9.5 sacks. It was a nice number that had garnered him some attention to the be the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Then Ohio State played Wisconsin, who is perennially known for having one of the best offensive lines in college football.
Against the Badgers, Young had the best game of his college career. He finished the game with four sacks, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. That is good enough to be a full season stat line for some players. The game not only made it clear that the hype surrounding his draft stock was real, but that he should be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football.
His 13.5 sacks lead the FBS and put him on pace to finish the year with around 22 sacks by the time the Big Ten Championship is over, assuming the Buckeyes make it. That would put him behind Terrell Suggs, who had 24 sacks at Arizona State for most all-time by a player in a season. He would have a chance to break that in a bowl game or the College Football Playoff.
For a career, he is just the second player in Ohio State history with two double-digit sack seasons. The other player was Mike Vrabel. Young has 13.5 sacks in eight games played. In JaDeveon Clowney’s best season at South Carolina, he registered 13 sacks. Just about any way that the numbers can be looked at, Young is knocking it out of the park.
Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are great players in their own right, but Young is doing unprecedented things on the defensive side of the ball that needs to be recognized.
The Buckeyes sit at 8-0 and look like the best team in the country. He can add to his personal legacy if his team has more success. Right now, it doesn’t look like anyone is going to stop them on the way to the College Football Playoff. If the Buckeyes get to that point, all eyes will be on Young to see if he can help deliver the Buckeyes another National Championship.
Young has to stay healthy for the rest of the year, but continuing to produce should at least get him an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. Defensive players almost never win the award, but players like Ndamukong Suh and Manti Te’o have been invited to the ceremony in recent years. Young likely should win the award by the end of the year, but it will almost always go to a quarterback. Either way, Young has proven to be the best player in college football, whether Heisman voters recognize it or not.
Great college football players don’t always turn out to be great pros. Some don’t even get drafted highly. At six-foot-5 and 265 pounds, his size and production mean that Young will be drafted highly with a good shot at being an impact player in the NFL. Young has done everything in his power to prove he is worth the first non-quarterback pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Barring anything crazy happening, that is exactly what will happen.