A Family Affair

Photo by Peter Lockley

By Joel Murphy

By the age of six, Washington Redskins fullback Darrel Young already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up – a professional football player.

While some kids change their mind as often as the seasons change, Young never wavered on his dream of one day playing in the NFL.

Once she knew that her son had made up his mind, Geneva Young did what any mother would do – loved and supported her baby boy. To this day Young remembers the advice his mother gave him as he practiced day in and day out in his backyard: “Run the ball like your brother is chasing you.”

And by all accounts, being picked on by his big brother did wonders for Young’s football career. In addition to inspiring him to run harder, Darrel’s older brother David gave him the toughness necessary to realize his dream.
“A big brother is always going to be a big brother, so he bullied me around a little bit but it was just to toughen me up, never to hurt me,” Darrel said. “I’m thankful that I had an older brother that was a little rough with me.”

Darrel and David, who are seven years apart in age, had a typical childhood growing up in Amityville, N.Y. David would torment him from time to time, but he was also fiercely protective of Darrel if anyone else ever tried to mess with his little brother.

To this day, David is still the person Darrel looks up to most and the go-to guy whenever the 23-year-old needs advice.

“He’s the person I go to all the time for everything, regardless if it’s school, football, family, love life, whatever it is,” Darrel said.

While David was more outgoing and a bit of a comedian growing up, Darrel has always been more quiet and reserved. Even still, the brothers still have plenty in common – especially their love of sports.
David ran track and played basketball, two sports that Darrel also tried his hand at, but it was football that Darrel truly loved and excelled at. Watching his little brother’s games, David could tell Darrel was destined for big things.

“He would always stand out over the other kids. As a younger kid, he was always playing one age above,” David remembers.

When asked by his first grade teacher what he wanted to do for a living someday, Darrel didn’t hesitate – he was going to play in the NFL.

“By the time he was nine or 10, he said to me, ‘Mom, I feel it in my heart. I’m going to play football,’” Geneva remembers.

While Darrel dreamed of a life in the NFL, David had his heart set on pursuing a career in the culinary arts. He also had an interest in joining the military, so when he turned 18 he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a cook. His decision took the whole family by surprise, but Darrel was particularly devastated.

“I think I took it the hardest just because I was going through a transition from elementary school to middle school at the same time and I was trying to find my life out just in terms of football and stuff like that,” Darrel said. “So when he left, I did get his room and all the stuff he didn’t want to take, but at the same time, I lost my best friend.”

The two remained close, of course, and David actively followed his brother’s career – through high school, college and now the pros – from wherever the military sent him. David was also there last season to offer advice and support when Darrel, who was signed to the Redskins practice squad as a linebacker, was cut after just two weeks on the team.

“When they released me, everyone said, ‘You’re doing a good job. You’ll be back. It’s nothing you did,’” said Darrel, but he wasn’t entirely convinced. “They brought in another linebacker, so I felt like there was something I wasn’t doing.”

When times are tough, it’s always good to have a big brother to offer reassurance.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to make it to the next level, don’t worry about it,’” David said.

When colleges like Georgia Tech and West Virginia told Darrel he wasn’t good enough to play for them, he used it as motivation to push him harder during his career at Villanova. Likewise, when he was released from the Redskins practice squad during his rookie year, it only added more fuel for the fire.

“I always said if I got another opportunity, I would strive for my best, never give up and just fight until I have nothing left,” Darrel said.

The Redskins brought Young back this season, but on the first day of training camp, Darrel feared history had repeated itself when he came in and couldn’t find his name on the linebacker depth chart.

Last season, Darrel was in the weight room lifting when he was told the general manager wanted to see him and that he should bring his playbook along, which he knew meant the worst. While still in limbo after seeing his name missing from the depth chart this season, Darrel was once again lifting weights when someone told him head coach Mike Shanahan wanted to meet with him. Darrel was sweating bullets as he walked into Shanahan’s office, already fearing the worst.

“He said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, we moved you to fullback,’” Darrel said. “I was like, ‘Great, you should have told me earlier.’”

After making the switch from linebacker to fullback, Darrel survived final roster cuts and made the 53-man roster. And he’s not someone collecting a free paycheck either. Young has happily taken on any and all responsibilities his coaches have thrown at him – including filling in as an emergency running back.
During a Monday Night Football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Nov. 15, Darrel filled in as a running back and picked up his first career pass block, first NFL carry (a 16-yard gain) and his first touchdown.

“You cannot imagine how it feels to cross that goal line for the first time in your professional career,” Darrel said.

David Young, now a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army, deployed to Afghanistan in July where he oversees more than 100 Soldiers in the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, out of Fort Bragg, N.C.

Even though he’s halfway around the world, David still never misses a Redskins game. When he knew he was deploying, David purchased a satellite dish so that he and his fellow Soldiers could watch all of Darrel’s games. Nearly a month later, David still cannot stop beaming with pride when recalling his baby brother’s first NFL touchdown.

“I’m still talking about it,” David said. “I posted it on Facebook.”

With David and his wife both engaged in a yearlong deployment, their two children are living with Geneva in New York. Being that far from your loved ones and dealing with the stress that comes from life in Afghanistan can be tough, but football has helped him cope with it all, David said.

“Every Soldier loves to watch football, but just to see my younger brother, it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s my younger brother on national TV and he’s doing something positive.’ It’s great. It helps out a lot,” he said. “A lot of people over here have a lot of issues. But to see them get excited to see my younger brother [play], it makes them feel better, so it makes me feel better too.”

David is scheduled to come back home next year and Darrel is already looking forward to the day when he can have his big brother attend a game at FedEx Field. Darrel hopes that perhaps he can get the team to honor his brother during a game, which is something the Redskins have done for servicemembers in the past.

As proud as David is watching his younger brother play in the NFL, Darrel is equally proud of his brother’s military career, which is why he would love to have David get a moment of recognition during one of his games.
In fact, when Darrel was first signed by the Redskins, David told him that he was his hero, but Darrel was quick to tell his brother that he was the real hero in the family.

“We look up to each other,” David said.

And, more importantly, they know that no matter what happens, they will always be there for each other.
“At the end of the day, he’s always going to have my back,” Darrel said.