Building A Bond

Three young Owls are ready to lead the defense to new heights.

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Building A Bond

Young’s 69 total tackles last season was the third highest total overall on the team and second most to Azeez Al-Shaair among freshmen. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Young’s 69 total tackles last season was the third highest total overall on the team and second most to Azeez Al-Shaair among freshmen. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Young’s 69 total tackles last season was the third highest total overall on the team and second most to Azeez Al-Shaair among freshmen. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Young’s 69 total tackles last season was the third highest total overall on the team and second most to Azeez Al-Shaair among freshmen. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Hans Belot Jr., Contributing Writer

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Practice had just ended.

Players were sitting around the back of the Tom Oxley Athletic Center recovering. Some were doing interviews, while others were heading back to the locker room.

However, sophomore safety Jalen Young was just getting started.

While his teammates were getting ready to head out with their days, Young rehydrated and made his way back onto the field alongside an assistant coach.

“He still has a long way to go and Jalen knows that,” head coach Charlie Partridge said of his sophomore who “was able to learn [the position] and contribute and play,” in his first year as a safety a season ago.

His exercise required a push up, jogging while raising his knees as high as he could and repeating until he reached the other end of the field before sprinting back as fast as possible.

“I want to be an All-American,” Young said. “Last year I fell shy because of inconsistency, so this year I want to be more consistent.”

As a captain in his senior season at Seminole Ridge High School, Young — a native of Belle Glade, Florida — earned first team all-county and all-conference honors as well as being named to the third all-state team.

The criminal justice major’s versatility allowed him to play quarterback on offense and safety on defense, as well as play basketball and track in the winter and spring seasons, respectively.

Last season at Florida Atlantic, Young recorded 69 tackles and three interceptions, earning himself Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors and an All-Conference USA honorable mention.

Joining Young during his post-practice workout was fellow 2015 Conference USA All-Freshman Team member, sophomore linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair.

Azeez Al-Shaair’s performances on the field led to him gaining All-Conference USA honorable mention and a Freshman All-American nod from USA Today and Scout. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Azeez Al-Shaair’s performances on the field led to him gaining All-Conference USA honorable mention and a Freshman All-American nod from USA Today and Scout. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Al-Shaair also earned a spot on both Scout and USA Today’s Freshman All-American Team after a team-high of 94 tackles. It was Al-Shaair’s third straight season with national attention after two years with National Underclassman Combine All-American honors from his high school days at Hillsborough High School.

“Azeez’s passion for this game is felt by our players every day, older players and players that were in his [recruiting] class and now the freshmen that are younger than him,” said Partridge. “It’s always on his sleeve and I love that about Azeez. He’s had a huge effect on our locker room.”

Following his workout with Al-Shaair, Young headed back to his apartment to continue his work with his teammate and roommate, sophomore defensive back and linebacker Ocie Rose.

“We watch films on our phones, he’ll come into my room and figure out plays we did wrong and plays we did good,” Rose said. “We play the same side of the ball, and he wanted to be closer to me and I wanted to be closer to him. We see the same things eye to eye. Some things we might see different but we still work it out. We make the team better by the connection that we got.”

“We’re basically the same guy off the field because we come from almost the same [kind of] neighborhood,” said Young of his and Rose’s relationship. “We’re both goofy and joke around a lot, we like to have fun but we both know when we get on this field, we got each other’s back.”

Rose and Young almost never connected at all.

After being named to the first team all-state team and listed among Miami Dade’s top 25 recruits for his efforts at Booker T. Washington High School, Rose committed to FAU rival Florida International University. He changed his mind six months later after visiting the Boca Raton campus.

Now the two can be seen together almost everywhere in public, such as social events, parties and restaurants. They will even take some of the freshmen with them. “We’re always talking, we’re always together and we do everything together,” said Rose. “We’ll go out to the freshman dorms, and grab the freshmen and take them out to eat with us and interact with each other.”

The roommates are not the only ones building trust within the defense.

Al-Shaair emphasized that the reason this defense’s chemistry has improved from last season is that they do the simple things, like hang around each other and get to know their teammates as people before trying to understand them as football players.

“Everyday after workouts, we’ll always hang out and just be chilling,” said Al-Shaair. “Hanging out playing [the EA Sports video game] Madden all the time — and I’m the best Madden player in the team, just putting it out there — just improved our relationship with each other.”

While they enjoy each other’s company, they know when to turn off the switch in favor of a more serious relationship.

“A lot of preparation has gone into this season,” Rose said. “We actually just started but we are doing a lot to make sure we are game ready. We are not ready right now but we’re doing everything we can to make sure we are ready come Sept. 3, so we can have a good season and dominate.”

The three have grown in the past year, and have new responsibilities. After the departures of defenders Brandin Bryant, Sharrod Neasman and Cre’von LeBlanc, each are getting leadership roles and taking the new freshmen under their wings, even though they are only one year removed from their shoes.

“Losing Crevon, Nessman and Brandin, they were some great players but they were also some good leaders,” said defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni. “We have older guys but to watch Azeez, Ocie and Jalen take this team by the throat and take the younger guys with them is really cool to watch.”

Hanging around each other, the off-field activities and the growth internally and physically all lead in one direction: the upcoming season.

“From my freshman [year], I improved a lot mentally by not making the same mistakes,” said Rose. “Coming from high school to college, and actually just learning the game, paying attention in the film room and taking notes really improved me.”

Last season each of the three players had to fight for their starting jobs. After earning their respective conference awards, their roles do not hold the same uncertainty.

However, none of those successes they enjoyed individually have gotten into their head.

“One thing you always worry about is complacency,” said Bellantoni. “But these guys are even more hungry than before.”

From the first practice going into the season, the three guys have created a chemistry that will translate onto the field. When one player makes a play on defense, everyone gets excited and that is the kind of atmosphere Young, Rose and Al-Shaair wanted to create for the defense.

“It’s good to see them encourage each other,” said Bellantoni. “I’m really glad they are bonding with each other and celebrating with one another.”

All three of these players are sophomores and all have one thing in mind: to win. To them, winning starts with the defense.

“Offenses need to definitely be worried about us,” said Al-Shaair.

For Young, only a few words were on his mind when asked if they’re ready to terrorize offenses this season.

“Got to,” said the safety. “[We] got to.”

Hans Belot Jr. is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him at @Don_Phenom_.