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March 1, 2011Frederick Douglass (PG) coach J.C. Pinkney grudgingly admits that half his schedule is made up of less-than-stellar opponents. That's why he doesn't put much stock in stats accrued during a 48-0 victory over Crossland or a 42-6 drubbing of Surrattsville. Rather, he judges his players based on what they do in the so-called "big games," when the competition is even and the games are fierce.
And by Pinkney's account, cornerback/safety Tavon Young passes the test.
"Tavon was everywhere we needed him to be," Pinkney said. "He showed up on the biggest stage."
After cruising through the first part of their schedule, Douglass ran the gauntlet against traditionally tough teams like Potomac, Gwynn Park, Forestville and Friendly in four consecutive weeks. They emerged from that death march with a respectable 3-1 record, putting them in prime position for the playoffs.
In all of those games, Young, who stands just 5-feet-9 and 160 pounds, played a major role. The rising senior recorded six interceptions and had double-digit breakups last season, and half his picks and pass defenses came during that four-game stretch.
"Whenever we needed that turnover or key stop, Tavon came through for us," said Douglass cornerback/kick returner Josef Hinnant. "He stepped up and got it done."
First, there was that game against Potomac, where Douglass emerged with a 24-19 victory despite 207 yards rushing from Wolverines lead 'back Ron Darby. Young, however, wasn't responsible for the defensive meltdown. He recorded a key interception that led to a touchdown and also made two open-field tackles on the elusive Darby.
Next, there was the 10-6 loss to Gwynn Park, Douglass' first defeat of the year. Despite coming up short, Young helped hold the Jackets' top receiver, Brandon Banks, to just two receptions for 28 yards.
He did even better the next week in a resounding 30-6 bounce-back win against Forestville. Young didn't allow one completion and notched two breakups.
But Young saved his best performance for last. In a 32-6 drubbing of a playoff-bound Friendly team, the young (no pun intended) defensive back picked off two passes and returned one of them 45 yards for a touchdown.
"It was right before halftime and they were in shotgun so I was expecting pass," said Young, describing his pick-six. "Their top receiver [Sherrod Baltimore] was lined up in the slot and I knew he'd go deep. I made sure I had my drop, and I read the quarterback's [eyes]. I jumped the route and picked it off and ran it back."
"That got us pumped," Hinnant added. "That was huge."
What's even more impressive then his four-game breakout, Young made all of these plays at an unfamiliar position.
A natural cornerback, Young came up expecting to be Douglass' version of Darrelle Revis. Instead, he had to settle for Ed Reed.
"I did OK considering I was playing safety," Young said. "I guess I can be like Revis and Reed at the same time. Reed can cover and he's a ballhawk, and Revis is just shutdown. That's what I'm trying to be - a shutdown defender."
Although he's undersized and lacks ideal strength, Young has the tools to eventually develop into a top-notch corner. He makes up for his 5-foot-9 frame with long arms and wingspan. He atones for an average 4.5 40-yard dash time with smarts, savvy and technique.
"He's got great instincts and good ability," Pinkney said. "He sticks to receivers and knows how to press them without drawing a penalty. Physically, he's a quick cat with great hips and reaction time. When the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it at its highest point."
Young showed off all of these skills on a daily basis at Douglass. In practice, he was given a chance to guard the Eagles' best receiver, Milton Williams, who has Division I-AA scholarship offers. Williams is taller, faster and more refined then Young, but the little defensive back refused to be intimidated. Williams won his share of the battles, but not without a fight.
"Milt and Tavon used to battle in practice," Pinkney said. "Milt could never get much separation. Tavon is a very competitive kid and he won't back down."
What's more, Young is considered one of the Eagles' most prepared and most attentive players. He's an avid film watcher who's lauded for recognizing offensive schemes. He recognizes routes faster then any other Douglass defensive back. On the occasions when Young does lapse, he learns from it and rarely makes the same mistake again.
"I call him a one-time kid," Pinkney said. "He may do something wrong once, but after that it's fixed. He's absolutely reliable."
But for all the intangibles - instincts, hard work, study habits - Young is still a borderline college prospect. He may have held his own against the best Prince George's County had to offer, but the fact of the matter is he doesn't have the ideal measurables (height, 40 time) elite schools go gaga over.
It's likely Young will need a stellar offseason followed by another All-State regular season to sniff the I-AA level.
"I need to get stronger, faster and put in all the offseason work I can," Young said. "I have to get ready to show that I'm a top corner and can play anywhere."
After spending last season at safety, Young is indeed slotted to line up at his favorite position in 2011. If he continues to pass Pinkney's baseline test - shutting down the best receivers in the county -- maybe, just maybe, he'll catch a recruiter's eye.
At least, that's the plan.
"I've known Tavon since elementary school and we've been playing together all my life," said Hinnant, who also happens to be a borderline I-AA prospect. "The plan is to be playing in college together, too. I might be a little faster, but Tavon is a great defensive back and a great playmaker. Next year, we'll make it happen."
Young agreed with his teammate.
"I know I can cover, I know I can tackle, I know I can make plays," he said. "I know can play D-I football."