Scottie Young Jr. changed numbers this offseason, from 19 to 6. The Arizona Wildcats junior considers it part of his “reincarnation.”
He’s still a football-loving, hard-hitting safety with natural playmaking instincts. He’s also a changed man, according to multiple UA coaches and players.
“He’s a much different player, a much different guy than he was when I first got here,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Just how he handles himself, how he talks to the players, how he talks to everybody else. I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”
After a head-turning training camp as a freshman in 2017 that put him on the fast track to a starting spot, Young got in trouble off the field. He did not immediately miss any game time because of it.
But sometime after Sumlin became coach in January 2018, it was determined that Young would be suspended from all offseason team activities. He was reinstated about a week into last year’s training camp but had to sit out the opener against BYU.
Young could have elected to transfer. He could have complained about the punishment on social media. Instead, he looked inward, reflecting on his “trials and tribulations” and determining how he could learn from them.
“I was upset — upset with myself,” Young said. “I put that on myself. So I had to stay level-headed. I had to stay focused. I always knew that it was going to be a bigger purpose, and here we are today.”
Young spoke to the media after practice Tuesday night. He talked openly and candidly about his time at Arizona, willingly answering every question thrown his way. Sometimes interviews like these can feel rehearsed; this one didn’t.
Sumlin and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates both had lauded Young’s maturation, so it was a natural jumping-off point. Young attributed it to “time” — specifically, time spent with his teammates and coaches, earning back their trust.
How does one go about that?
“Just paying my dues,” Young said. “Coming in every day, working hard, no more distractions, putting things behind me and just being a great teammate.”
Young couldn’t do that last offseason. The school suspended him in the aftermath of a September 2017 incident that resulted in Young being arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, a misdemeanor.
A police report revealed that Young and his girlfriend got into a heated argument that became physical. The charge filed against Young was eventually dismissed by Pima County prosecutors following his completion of a diversion program.
Young played in Arizona’s next game, at Colorado, recording a season-high 11 tackles. He finished his freshman year with 53 stops in 10 games.
Then football was taken away from him.
“You don’t want it to happen, obviously,” Yates said. “But for a kid like that, it’s a big deal. It means something to him.”
Yates said Young missed football. Young said it was more than that.
“That brotherhood — that’s the thing I missed the most,” Young said. “Just being away for that long, from guys that I came in with, guys that I built bonds with. I just missed all those guys.”
Young said he never believed he wouldn’t be back. On Aug. 10, 2018, his suspension from team activities was lifted. Young said Tuesday that he was “thankful that the coaches allowed me to come back, thankful that my teammates took me back in.”
Young had a lot of catching up to do after missing spring practice and summer workouts with the strength-and-conditioning staff. He was supposed to make his season debut in Week 2 at Houston but had to sit out because of a hamstring injury.
“I’m a guy who wants to go full speed right away,” Young said. “That kind of took a toll.”
Yates believes Young never was fully healthy during the 2018 season. He still finished with 38 tackles and a team-high three interceptions — including a pick-six against Cal — in 10 games.
Young participated in his first spring practice this year, followed by summer workouts — a critical step in the preparation process. He has been a noticeable figure at free safety, as much for his communication as his playmaking.
“Scottie Young’s been the loudest out of everybody,” veteran linebacker Tony Fields II said.
“Leadership-wise,” Yates said, “he’s on a whole ’nother level.”
Young has been mentoring freshman cornerbacks Christian Roland-Wallace and Bobby Wolfe, spending time with them off the field, answering their questions and advising them to embrace the “day-to-day grind.”
The safety group lost its veteran spokesman when Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles graduated. Flannigan-Fowles had worn No. 6. But as much as Young admired his teammate, Flannigan-Fowles wasn’t the inspiration for the number change.
UA legend Chuck Cecil also wore No. 6 — and he attended the same high school as Young, Helix in La Mesa, California. Young texted Cecil, the Wildcats’ senior defensive analyst, to ask if he could wear the number. Cecil signed off on it.
“I just felt like I needed something new,” Young said. “Everybody was saying … I matured. I feel like I blossomed into something different.”
Young wants to be someone his teammates and coaches can rely on — which wasn’t always the case his first two seasons, for various reasons. He was asked what it means to be accountable.
“Just being responsible for your own actions, taking responsibility and owning up to everything you do,” Young said. “You can’t really live on the past, but you have to learn from it. I definitely did that this past year.”
• The team shifted practice to Arizona Stadium on Wednesday, conducting a scrimmage that was closed to local media.
• Quarterback Kevin Doyle (shoulder) increased his workload, throwing a little farther and harder than Tuesday. He also threw passes to running backs. Barring a setback, Doyle should be back in the mix soon. He hasn’t participated in full drills since camp opened July 26.
• The team ran a special-teams drill where a blocker had to turn and try to impede another player in the open field. Standouts in the drill included defensive backs Christian Roland-Wallace and Samari Springs.
• Freshman receivers Jalen Johnson and Jaden Mitchell were out, as was veteran edge rusher Lee Anderson III. Senior receiver Cedric Peterson continued to work on the side. Cornerback McKenzie Barnes, who has been limited, participated in position drills.
• Visitors to practice included a scout from the Miami Dolphins and Pac-12 Networks announcers Yogi Roth and Jill Savage.
• Former Arizona wide receiver Devaughn Cooper, who was dismissed from the team in May, has transferred to UTEP. Cooper graduated this summer and will be eligible immediately for the Miners. UTEP’s staff includes three former UA assistants: head coach Dana Dimel, offensive coordinator Mike Canales and special teams coach Joe Robinson.