Ready to make his mark
Michael Bauer| Sports Reporter
He is only a redshirt freshman now, but the competition at the Rio Olympics in 2016 might want to take notice of Devon Young.
He may be younger than most of the team, but he still has everyone looking up to h
im. After all, he does have the repertoire of a champion, including being among the best runners in Missouri during high school.
Young is an underclassman who has worked his way to becoming the No. 1 runner on the Pittsburg State men’s cross country team this season, though it did not come easy. His transition to the collegiate level led to a number of changes in his training method.
When asked if he or anybody else on the team considers him a prodigy, Young laughs, but responds with a quick ‘yes.’ Nobody, runners or coaches, can keep it a secret that he is an above-average runner.
“Yeah, they always joke about me being so good and all that, but a lot of times they also tell me how my talent is rare, and that I have something that is crazy,” Young said. “It took me a while to actually notice. I thought maybe I was just an average runner, but people tell me all the time that I have something rare, and I can do some stuff that has never been done before. That’s my goal.”
It is no surprise that Young has a team captain’s mentality despite being nearly four years younger than some of his teammates.
“I definitely feel like a leader on the men’s team even though I’m a redshirt freshman,” Young says. “I know a lot of the incoming freshmen look up to me and I try to set a great example for them. I know a lot of the older guys might look up to me in a different way. We all have different things that stand out on the team. We all look up to each other in a certain way, so I try to set a great example to continue to push even when things get hard. We want to get our names out there and be the top team so we work hard everyday.”
Hailing from Raymore, Mo., Young ran at Raymore-Peculiar High School. By his sophomore year, he was already earning All-State honors. His junior year, he finished fourth at state. In his final race in high school, Young came up seven seconds shy of winning the Missouri Class-4 state championship. Young also made All-American at the American Amateur Union (AAU) track and field nationals his sophomore year for the Junior Olympics.
However, high school and college are two different animals. Young learned that the hard way.
After his senior year, it was time to make the adjustment from running five kilometers on any given Saturday to eight. And he had to deal with not being the best. When Young was in high school, he was the best runner in his school and there was no way he was going to face the same competition as he would in college. Welcome to Pittsburg State, where cross country banners hang all over the gym. There was a price that Young was going to pay to join, and his ego would get bruised.
“In high school, I was used to winning a lot. I really didn’t push myself as hard as I work now. I had to get used to coming from somewhere where I’m the best to a place where everyone is just as good as me,” Young said. “So mentally it hurt coming in because I wasn’t used to being on the back burner. I wasn’t getting seen and I wanted to make an impact. So it was nice once I adjusted to the running plan and people started seeing what I worked for. It was a big step mentally being able to do things my body wasn’t used to.”
Figuring it out
There is a saying in cross country: “Hills do not exist, they are only in your head.” The same can be said for what Young went through to get better. The difficulties were all based on mental toughness. Once Young changed that, it was all downhill from there. Just like the metaphor, these obstacles were only in Young’s head.
“Most importantly, I had to change my mindset,” Young said. “It had to change a ton. A total 360, basically. I had to know mentally that it’s all there. Running cross country is mentally challenging and the biggest thing you have to have is a strong mind. You have to control your mind.”
With his mindset fixed, Young still had to fix his viewpoint when racing. His key to success in high school was simply showing up and winning. At Pittsburg State, that did not come without a few responsibilities.
“The second biggest thing I had to change was my running philosophy,” Young said. “I set different goals for every race. I just go with the flow. I know that I just have to be a leader, so I had to change from being in the back to working my way to the top and continue to push on.”
His third and final transition was getting rid of old eating habits. While most of his fellow runners at Raymore-Peculiar ate healthy, Young admits to being the polar opposite when it came to chow time.
“In high school I was one of the most ridiculous eaters you’ve ever seen,” Young said. “A lot of the guys in school were eating healthy. They were eating salads. I didn’t care for it; I was more like ‘I’m a runner so I’m not fat’ and I ate at McDonald’s all the time.”
He has rid himself of the Big Mac diet and eats more vegetables on a daily basis.
“Once you get to college, you start to realize that you’ve got to eat some of that food that is healthy and will keep your body going,” Young said. “I try to get a salad in every week. Every day I eat something that is going to help my body recuperate so that I’ll be ready for the next day.”
A champion’s idols
Two months ago, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt confirmed his status as the fastest person in the world by winning his second-straight gold medal in the 100-meter final. You might think Young was busier focusing on the much longer distance races in the Olympics, such as the marathon, but you would be wrong. Young does not run short distances, nor is he as fast as Bolt, but he still compares his mentality to Bolt and other sprinters.
“I can’t really say I look to the distance level much. I look at the short distance events more because it’s different,” Young said. “I like the mentality that sprinter runners have. Bolt is my all-time favorite runner. There’s no guy like him and he just stands out. He proves a point and that’s like my mindset. I want to prove a point to all people who doubt me and don’t think it’s possible.”
Another person he looks up to is someone Young ran against during his time at AAU.
“I look up to Maurice Mitchell. He’s an alumnus of Florida State and this was his first year making it to the Olympics. I remember when I was younger, I trained with him on the AAU teams so it was nice seeing someone that’s pretty close making it,” Young said.
Pains to gains
The championship portion of the season is about to begin for the Gorillas with the conference meet just around the corner. Young feels he has come a long way, but that will not stop him from working harder.
“I’m starting to compete where I want. I feel like I’m getting really good, but not where I want to be yet,” Young said. “The goal is to be the best and everybody wants to be the best, so that’s my goal. No matter how things go right now, I’m going to work harder and I’m going to compete hard until I’m No. 1.”