Spotlight Knight: Aaron Young
When the Rutgers football team, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan, took the field for its first offensive play against Maryland this past Saturday, one key asset to the backfield and the receiving group watched from the sidelines: Junior running back Raheem Blackshear.
Blackshear, like sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski, could redshirt the remaining seven games of the season. He has started the first four games of the season in the backfield, splitting reps with sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco along with lining up as a receiver in the majority of offensive play packages.
While Pacheco was the No. 1 power back going into last Saturday's contest against the Terrapins (3-2, 1-1), another player quietly made his mark as Blackshear's understudy.
True freshman running back Aaron Young came to the Banks as the No. 11 ranked recruit in his home state of Pennsylvania. For the out-of-state student, the Scarlet Knights (1-4, 0-3) have served as his home away from home, especially since his older brother by one year, sophomore defensive back Avery Young, is there to help him get adjusted to a new offense along with a new lifestyle on the Banks.
Aaron Young has quietly emerged as a speedy running back. With Blackshear and Pacheco slated at the first team during summer training camp, Aaron Young got to mix in with some other members of the backfield, including running backs fellow true freshman Kay'Ron Adams and sophomore Elijah Barnwell. All three saw time against Maryland, with Adams leading the group with 9 rushing yards.
Interim head coach Nunzio Campanile, who also doubles as the offensive coordinator, gave Aaron Young the thumbs up to make his first career start against the Terrapins, a Big Ten East Division opponent and conference rival of Rutgers.
Aaron Young saw an increased role against Maryland on offense, lining up as a wideout for several plays. He hauled in one reception for 13 yards in the second quarter, bringing Langan and the Knights offense into the Terrapins' territory on that drive.
With his older brother suspended for the first half, after he was disqualified in the fourth quarter of the Rutgers' 52-point loss in Michigan a short two weekends ago, Aaron Young was tapped in as the punt returner. The older sibling is atop the depth chart as a punt returner along with junior defensive back Tre Avery.
In the first quarter, Aaron Young and the punt return unit only took the field once, as Maryland's offense maintained the majority of possession for the quarter. The only action he saw as a punt returner in his first quarter of a start was a fair catch. In fact, all three of his punt returns weren't even returns. They were all fair catches.
But, it was the kickoff unit, where Aaron Young excelled on Saturday. This season, the true freshman has cracked the depth chart at the kick returner spot alongside Tre Avery.
Aaron Young totaled a hefty 175 yards on seven kickoff attempts the whole game, taking all of the Knights' returns out of the end zone.
In the third quarter, Aaron Young ran for a game-high kickoff return of 48 yards, running from Rutgers' 7-yard line across midfield and the block "R" before eventually tackled by Deonte Banks at the Terrapins' 43-yard line. This started the Knights' second offensive drive of the third quarter.
The Coatesville, Pennsylvania, native made his first kickoff attempt the previous week in Michigan Stadium, with a 19-yard return. With his 175-yard performance last weekend, a kickoff return role could be in Aaron Young's future.
This coming weekend, Aaron Young will face an Indiana kickoff unit that is sixth in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers (3-2, 0-2) average 60 yards per kick along with 21 touchbacks. Against Michigan State on Sept. 28, where the Spartans won by 9 points, they gave up 295 kickoff return yards to their own Cole Hahn.
Indiana uses a specialty kicker for kickoffs: Nathanael Snyder. The junior, who has not played the past several seasons, has gotten starts this season kicking off for the Hoosiers. He does have a tendency to kick touchbacks. Against the Spartans, 4 of his 6 kicks were called touchbacks. This season, he has 15.
Snyder also does not send his kicks out of bounds. He has not landed 2 out of 27 attempts in bounds.
Aaron Young could very well see a similar role as last weekend, coming into Indiana this Saturday. He is fifth on the team with 53 receiving yards, only 12 yards shy of leaping past junior wide receiver Mohamed Jabbie for fourth on the team's list.
During the Boston College game on Sept. 21, Aaron Young had a season-high three receptions for 35 yards inserted more as a wideout. During his first summer training camp in August, he practiced in a role similar to Blackshear. That is, one of a pass-catching running back. Something not new to him.
"I'm pretty comfortable because throughout high school I did it. In practice and camp I did both," Aaron Young said about his position against the Eagles. "It's nothing new to me. It's normal for me to line up in the slot and the backfield."
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