Photo/James Pugh

He towers over six feet tall, and some odd inches over that. Combined with his height, and a body frame of 280 pounds, or 285, depending on what recruiting site you prefer to visit, Byron Young has Southeastern Conference written all over him. The West Jones defensive end is not only impressive – he’s dominant. During his junior and senior years, opposing ball carriers – namely quarterbacks and running backs – preferred plays that carried them in the opposing direction. Even then, it didn’t matter. Young’s quickness often led to tackles on the opposite side of the defensive front. 

West Jones, led by the Alabama commit up front defensively, finished the 2018 season in a position no other team in its program’s history had been in. Ask Young how that feels, and he’ll tell you the opposite of what you might expect.

“It stings,” said Young. “Losing that last game still stings.”

They say, ‘third times the charm.’ But for West Jones, the charm came in year 53 – sort of. Before 2018, no West Jones football team ever made it past the semifinal round (South State). This year West Jones did, beating Picayune 21-13 in the Class 5A South State Championship, just a week after pulling off the biggest upset in MHSAA football for the 2018 season, stunning the 5A favorite coming into the season, Hattiesburg, in Hattiesburg, 37-14. The historic season, though, ended in Hattiesburg at M. M. Roberts Stadium when North champion West Point beat West Jones in its first-ever football state championship game, 27-7. 

“It was a great year,” Young said. “But it didn’t finish the way we wanted it too. I thought we played good throughout the year. We got better every week, but things didn’t finish the way we wanted it too.”

It wasn’t the best finish by way of overall record; West Jones went 11-1 in 2009 and 12-1 in 2010. Both of those would-be perfect seasons ended with a playoff loss, the most agonizing loss coming in 2010 when West Jones fell to Brookhaven 27-26 in the Class 5A South State Championship on a last-second field goal. This year, behind its defense led by Young, Damion Cunningham and Jon-Micah Coleman, the Mustangs finished the season with three losses but advanced farther than previous teams before them. West Jones entered the playoffs as a No. 2 seed after a 6-1 finish in Region 3-5A, second only to Laurel, who edged out the Mustangs in overtime, 23-17, back in October. A win over Stone, a shocking upset versus Hattiesburg and a dominant win over Picayune put West Jones in its first-ever state championship game. 

“It was a great feeling,” said Young as he described the team’s win over Hattiesburg. “It’s one of the best feelings I’ve had playing here [at West Jones].”

For now, according to Young, his team’s loss to West Point overshadows that feeling of victory…and rightly so. The journey often gets overshadowed by the ending. 

Young has a rare journey to tell from his time in Soso. Under head coach Pierson – who just completed his 17th season at West Jones – losing seasons are extremely rare. As a freshman and sophomore, Young experienced them back-to-back. West Jones finished 4-7 in 2015 and 5-6 in 2016. 

“It was trying,” said Young, “but we stuck with it. It was never really an option to quit. I’m just not a quitter, and football is something I love doing. Winning or losing, I’m going to keep on playing. When you’re down, you’re down hard. But when it’s up, there’s no greater feeling.”

As a junior and senior, he was a part of some of the best years to date. In 2017, West Jones finished the regular season 8-3, which included a 17-14 win over Laurel, previous winners of three straight Region 3-5A titles. The season, though, was marred by a loss to Stone in the first round of the playoffs. 

This year, Young helped West Jones avenge its loss to Stone in the first round, 25-23, with a team-high 18 total tackles, including three tackles for losses. Two of those were sacks.

“We worked hard every single day,” Young said. “We entered every game with the mindset of winning it, [no matter who we were playing].”

Young finished second in total tackles with 125 and first in solo takedowns with 93. He also led the West Jones in TFL (29.5) and sacks (17.5). 

Alabama has a commitment from the nation’s Top 300 2019 recruit. Young, listed as Mississippi’s fourth-best high school player in the 2019 class, committed to the Crimson Tide back in July. He’s taken official visits to Alabama and Florida and plans to visit Ole Miss, according to 

“It’s been good,” said Young regarding his experience as a top 2019 recruit. “I’ve learned to not take anything for granted. I don’t take any of my scholarship offers for granted. It teaches me patience and communication skills. Every day it seems like I’m talking to a recruiter or a coach or a reporter. 

“I feel happy with the coaches [at Alabama]. I also have a special relationship with the players. I love the campus and the people around the campus.”

Young has been selected to play in the 2019 All-American Bowl set for Saturday, Jan. 5 at noon in San Antonio, Texas. The All-American Bowl is a high school football all-star game of sorts, featuring the nation’s best senior athletes.