Iowa football’s Young stays the course on special teams

Hawkeye senior Devonte Young could’ve left Iowa years ago. Instead, he stayed and made a game-defining play against Iowa State.

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Iowa football’s Young stays the course on special teams

Iowa defensive back Devonte Young celebrates after a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Iowa defensive back Devonte Young celebrates after a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive back Devonte Young celebrates after a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive back Devonte Young celebrates after a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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Devonte Young could have transferred long before he secured a muffed punt to help Iowa beat Iowa State, 18-17, on Sept. 14.

Entering the 2017 season, Young could have been an integral part of an offense that lost three of its top four pass-catchers from a year before. 

Neither scenario unfolded.

Instead, junior college transfer Nick Easley, along with freshmen Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, climbed up the depth chart and found time on the playing field.

So, Young waited. 

“I was just thinking, ‘I committed here. I’m on this team. This is what I want to do. I’m giving this my all my four years,’” Young said. “It’s just a family environment. We help each other through the ups and downs.” 

After the 2017 season, Young moved from wide receiver to defensive back. 

Although he hadn’t seen the field much on the defensive side of the ball, he became a key player on special teams. That’s been Young’s niche at Iowa.

“You always go through ups and downs, and you never know what could happen,” Young said. “In the future, somebody could lose their job, but that doesn’t mean they’re done for the rest of their lives. You got to go out and find a new job and stuff like that, so I look at it like that.

“Switching from offense to defense, finding my role on special teams, you just got to find where you fit at.” 

Everything Young went through paid off in the Hawkeyes’ fifth-straight win over the Cyclones.

With a 1-point lead and just over a minute-and-a-half remaining, Iowa State set itself up to get the ball back for a chance at a game-winning drive. 

The Cyclone offense would never take the field.

When Iowa punter Michael Sleep-Dalton kicked the ball away, Iowa State’s Datrone Young ran into teammate Deshaunte Jones, who attempted to field the punt. The ball bounced off the Cyclone Young’s back, and Iowa’s Young jumped on the ball to secure the Cy-Hawk victory.

“Devonte I think came up with the ball down there,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s been hustling, working hard. One of our seniors who’s really done a great job on special teams now for a couple years.” 

In the end, the win came down to special teams and leadership from Iowa’s veterans. After enduring two lightning delays, a team needs to stay focused. The Hawkeyes did just that.

Senior Nate Stanley led the Hawkeyes on offense and managed the game just the way he needed to. Juniors Smith and Smith-Marsette combined for 7 receptions and 97 yards. Junior Geno Stone forced a key fumble to keep the Cyclones from scoring before halftime. Junior Keith Duncan nailed a 39-yard field goal to give the Hawkeyes a 1-point lead in the fourth quarter.

And Young, the senior special teamer, locked the game up with a fumble recovery to become a Hawkeye hero.

“Guys were just telling us, ‘We got to stay focused, we got to stay loose, keep our mind right,’” Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. “The guys did a really good job of that. The seniors were an example of that. They showed us the way.”

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