LEXINGTON, Ky. — Landon Young found himself in the center of a circle again Tuesday, standing in the spotlight with all eyes focused squarely on the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Kentucky offensive tackle from Lafayette High School just two miles away. This was not an unfamiliar feeling for Young.
Surrounded by reporters who wanted to know what he thinks about a sudden promotion — he’ll likely replace starting left tackle Cole Mosier, who tore his ACL on Saturday — Young wore a gray wrestling T-shirt from his days at Lafayette, where he was a heavyweight state champion as a senior. That experience helped prepare him for this new challenge.
Learning to stand in that circle, to battle mano a mano, with everyone watching and nowhere to hide, helped turn him into a 5-star football recruit and, now, likely one of just 14 SEC starters at the most high-profile position on the offensive line. Young is a true sophomore, and now he’ll be the primary protector of quarterback Stephen Johnson’s blindside.
“I don’t think I’d be the football player that I am unless I did wrestle,” Young said. “That was a huge part of my high school career. Not only high school, but those things translate to the football field: The handwork, the footwork, just being able to be out there one-on-one like most left tackles.”
Young said the close combat taught him to grow up, “to be a man.”
His growing-up process at Kentucky has been accelerated since Week 2 of last season. As a true freshman, his first taste of college football came just as unexpectedly as this latest opportunity: Mosier went down with an ankle injury and in came Young — against the SEC East champion Florida Gators in The Swamp.
“It’s like I was getting dipped in gas and thrown into the fire,” Young said. “As you’ve seen from the game, I got in there and it was a little rough at first. I had to get my wits about me. But I felt like as I sort of got the experience and got to see everything, I sort of calmed down, settled down, got into my spot.”
Young might’ve been soaked in fossil fuels once again with Mosier’s season-ending injury, but he’s hoping to avoid the fire this time. He’s no longer a rookie. In fact, Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman estimated that Young played more snaps last season than Mosier, who ended up missing three games.
“You can’t put [the value of that experience] in words,” coordinator Eddie Gran said. “It’s not going to be anything mind-boggling to him. He’ll go out there and when you’ve got the bullets flying, I think he’ll be a much better player this year. You can already see it right now in practice.”
The nice (and relatively unusual) thing for Kentucky is that because of the depth and versatility it has cultivated in the offensive line, there are other options. Starting right tackle Kyle Meadows could move to left tackle and utility man George Asafo-Adjei could slide into the right-tackle spot. Talented youngsters Naasir Watkins (a true freshman) and Mason Wolfe (a redshirt sophomore) have drawn praise and are also possibilities.
But Young doesn’t expect the Wildcats will need to reach for the contingency plans.
He is “one hundred percent” expecting to seize this latest opportunity, Young said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to get that job.”
Young came to Kentucky with a 5-star ceiling. Eric Shaw, his high school coach, said he sees Young playing on Sundays. That’s putting a lot on a guy who still has to prove he can be a starting left tackle in the SEC, but if wrestling taught him anything, it’s that he’s only begun to discover his potential.
“It transforms you into a whole other person,” Young said. “It pushes you past what you know you can go.”