Tennessee DL Byron Young. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.
Tennessee senior defensive end Byron Young has officially played his last game for the Volunteers. Just a few days before Christmas, Young announced on social media that while he was entering his name into the NFL Draft this offseason, he would be playing in the Orange Bowl against Clemson to end his career on Rocky Top.
That decision, though, was one that kept the South Carolina native up at night. While speaking with the media after Tennessee’s 31-14 Orange Bowl victory, Young pulled back the curtain on the stress that went into that decision to play with NFL Draft prep right around the corner.
“I prayed on it,” Young said about the decision to play or not play. “Honestly, I prayed on it. Everyone was telling me to opt-out. Literally, everyone told me that. And it was kind of making me scared for myself because if everyone is saying it, they might be right, you know? Coach G (Rodney Garner) told me pray on it and go with your gut. He said it would never steer you wrong. And, I promise you, right after I prayed on it, I was locked in. I told myself I’m in it.”
It’s not uncommon to see highly-touted players out-opt of the bowl season these days. But for Young, though, the Tennessee senior still felt an overwhelming feeling that he needed to finish what he started with his teammates.
“For sure,” Young said about the impact his teammates had on his decision. “That was one of the huge parts. I couldn’t really eat for weeks just thinking about it, honestly. Like I would just think about it every day. Going to my therapist, telling her about it, not being able to sleep. It was really on my mind a lot about playing in this game and I really wanted to be here.”
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Ultimately, though, Young did play and helped lead Tennessee to an Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. That, according to Young, is the legacy that he set out to leave when he finished his time on Rocky Top.
“This right here,” Young said about what his legacy at Tennessee was. “I didn’t want to leave this game without winning this game. All week, preparing for this game, everyone thinking I’m going to opt out. Even me, feeling like I’m going to opt-out. But it just didn’t feel right. Telling my Dad, telling my coaches that I really wanted to be here and play this last game with my team. And that’s what I did so that’s why I’m here.”
Byron Young finished the Orange Bowl with three total tackles and two timely sacks on Tigers quarterback Cade Klubnik. Young was a disruptive force as Tennessee’s defensive line continued to bring pressure on Clemson’s freshman quarterback all night. Young’s effort and performance in the Orange Bowl is sure to be something that’ll favor him during NFL Draft conversations over the next few months.
“I’m thankful that I played in the game!” Young said with a big laugh. “It’s amazing, though. Just finishing what we started. This is what it’s all about. It’s not about stats and all of that. It’s about being with your team, being around people that love you, and finishing what you started.”
Byron Young will be heading to the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl while continuing his prep for the 2023 NFL Draft.