ST. PETERSBURG — Playing football on a Saturday night under the bright lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, popularly known as “The Swamp” on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville with 92,000 fans watching can be exhilarating for an 18-year-old kid from a small town.
A player who performs in this atmosphere is showered with admiration on campus and throughout the city. Top Division I players at elite programs such as the UF Gators are elevated to star status with social media, television cameras, fan clubs, autograph signing sessions and supporters who cater to their every need.
For many athletes, they thrive and even seek out the spotlight. For others, foundational teachings keep them fundamentally sound and thus keep their hearts grounded. Their inner voice speaks louder than the commentators calling their names.
Trevon Young had access to all of the stardom of being a football player for the Gators, and then he searched his heart and made a decision.
Young grew up in Wimauma, a rural, unincorporated town in Hillsborough County with a population of approximately 6,000 people. He was raised in a blended home with his grandparents, aunt and cousins.
He lived with his grandparents while his mother attended Bethune Cookman College, later named a University. From that early experience, he learned the meaning of respect because his grandparents demanded it.
“My family had a hand in developing me to be who I am today. It was good being the youngest cousin in the house because I learned from their mistakes,” said Young. “I watched what was going on. I quickly figured out that I could do the right thing by seeing what the right thing to do was.
“Doing what is right aligns itself with order, self-discipline and acceptable behaviors. What I learned growing up in a small town was many people were around me to help make good choices. It became imbedded into my heart. I know when my heart is at peace with a decision that I’ve made, then it’s the right decision.”
When Young’s mother graduated college, she returned to Wimauma. They stayed there through his elementary and middle school years. When he started preparing for high school, the two of them moved to Bradenton.
There, he attended Braden River High School. It was a brand new school that didn’t have the strong athletic history as some of the other schools in Manatee County, yet he found love playing basketball.
In his junior year, Young was convinced to play football also. Up until then, he spent years only playing basketball with some of the top AAU teams in the State of Florida. At Braden River, however, he played defensive end and left tackle for the Pirates and did well.
Young still loved basketball. After playing three years of basketball and two years of football, in his senior year he faced a dilemma. More than 50 colleges were vying for his services as a football player, but less than 10 showed interest in his basketball skills.
Eckerd College, a small liberal arts college here in St. Pete, was interested in him for basketball and the Florida Gators for football.
“I went back and forth with my decision. I verbally committed to Eckerd, but then de-committed to go to Florida,” said Young. “I was hearing in my ear that a degree from the University of Florida would be better for my future and open up more doors of opportunity. I signed with the Gators to play football.”
At UF, Young committed to a red-shirt year to get in extra training. His weight went from 240 pounds to 315. The six o’clock morning practices were uninspiring to him and he was missing basketball, his first love. He hated the decision that he had made.
“I remembered the words a janitor spoke to me when I was in high school. At that moment he was an angel unaware,” said Young.
The janitor told him that whatever decisions he made to get back to where he was supposed to be. Those words resonated with him. He had a meeting with UF’s head coach, who supported his decision, and spoke with head Coach Ryan at Eckerd that same day.
He also called his mother to share his news and she was supportive of the man, who through foundational teaching and fundamental morals, searched for his purpose and followed his heart.
Young is in his final season as an Eckerd College Triton. Last Saturday, he scored his 1,000th point as a Triton. The atmosphere was electric. That moment for Young was exhilarating.
“It feels good to be at Eckerd. I’ve never sat down to look at the process and self-evaluate how I got here,” said Young. “I know that God had me on hold at UF. I know that I made the right choice. The experience brought me back to a solid relationship with God. Going to 6 a.m. practice at Eckerd feels good. I love what I’m doing.”