Tennessee Florida Football

Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) throws a pass over Tennessee linebacker Byron Young (6) during the first half on Sept. 25 in Gainesville, Florida.

KNOXVILLE — Byron Young’s season of promise took some time to get started.

A 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker and junior college transfer from Georgia Military College, Young signed with Tennessee last December before the arrival of head coach Josh Heupel and defensive coordinator Tim Banks in January.

He was a highly touted addition, but had to sit out the first two games against Bowling Green and Pittsburgh because of an NCAA eligibility issue dating back to his days at the prep football level.

Young’s impact for a Vols defense that came into the 2021 season as one of the more depleted and uncertain units in the country was felt immediately in his first outing against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 18.

Since that game, Young has 33 tackles (eight for loss) and 4.5 sacks, including one against No. 1 Georgia last Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

“Byron Young is getting better each and every week,” Banks said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, as we all know, and I think as the game starts to slow down for him, I think you’ll see even more production from him.”

That’s a scary thought for opposing SEC offenses.

Young played high school football at Carvers Bay in his native South Carolina before graduating and moving to Columbus, Georgia where he worked at a Dollar General for over a year. That’s where he picked up a flyer for open tryouts for the Georgia Military College football team in 2019.

He quickly made a name for himself that season, recording 31 tackles (11 for loss) and seven sacks, then garnered interest from several FBS programs, including Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina.

Now he’s one of the anchors of the UT defense.

“I think I improved well with my speed and stuff like that,” Young said. “Getting off the ball, making plays, just holding my blocks, setting the edge, things of that nature.”

Banks knew Young would be a contributor as a junior this season, but given his unconventional path to playing in the Power Five football ranks and the fact that he missed a year of playing in 2020 because Georgia Military College cancelled the season, the fact that he is one of the leaders of the Vols defense was something Banks didn’t see coming.

“He’s not a guy who’s played a lot of football,” Banks said. “To see the progression and to see how he’s getting better week in and week out has been a pleasant surprise to be quite honest with you. We thought he had a chance to be pretty good but now we realize he’s really just scratching the surface.

“I’m excited for him and I know he’s a worker and I think his best football is yet to be seen here.”

Follow @ByNoahTaylor on Twitter for more from sports reporter Noah Taylor.

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