The transformation in Mississippi Valley State’s defensive end Khalil Young goes beyond the 15 additional pounds that filled out his 6-foot-5 frame to a more well-defined 250 pounds.
“Last year, he wasn’t at the level that he is right now,” MVSU coach Rick Comegy said. “He’s matured a little bit. He understands what he has to do when he’s off the field and how to live off the field rather than being part of something that’s not conducive for him to play college football.”
Young always seemed to do his best work when motivated; exceeding expectations as a 225-pound pass-rushing defensive end while at McDonogh 35, where he was also a starter for the school’s basketball team.
Young also displayed a measure of maturity, graduating early from the New Orleans-area school to attend Mississippi Valley, where he’s a senior academically with another year of eligibility remaining.
“I played off of my heart, I have a big heart,” Young said of his high school career. “I don’t like it when people say I can’t do something. That motivates me. I like to prove them wrong.”
To a degree, that included Comegy, who challenged Young to return for his junior season better than ever before. Comegy knew opposing teams, who were already starting to double team Young last season, would be more cognizant of his budding standout this season.
Young, like most of his teammates, worked around NCAA-imposed sanctions that took away Mississippi Valley’s spring training because of lagging APR numbers. That only fueled a greater desire for Young to improve and gain his head coach’s approval.
With that part of the equation accomplished, Young’s next mission was to effect change in a Mississippi Valley team that suffered through a 2-9 season and 1-8 showing in Southwestern Athletic Conference play.
The Delta Devils (0-1) will try to move on from a season-opening 66-0 loss at New Mexico with their home and league opener against Southern (0-1) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPNU.
“I stayed in the weight room, and after that, I went and ran to stay in shape,” Young said. “Coach told me if I didn’t get bigger and better, I’d be worse. I wasn’t getting double-teamed last year. They’re expecting me to face more double-teams because they know what I can do.”
Young set the stage for a productive 2014 season — one in which he led the team in both tackles for losses and sacks — by cracking MVSU’s starting lineup in the final four games of his redshirt freshman season.
Regardless of the number of games, Young said he benefitted from the late-season game experience and confidence as a sophomore. He earned a starting berth, played in all 11 of his team’s games and ranked seventh overall in tackles with 41.
Where he really flourished, though, was in creating negative plays for the offense. Young led the Devils in tackles for losses with 11 for minus-46 yards with four sacks. He also forced two fumbles, recovered one and deflected two passes.
“What I didn’t like was that I thought I should have had more sacks,” Young said. “That’s one thing I’m trying to get better at, and that’s my pass rush. I know I can cause trouble in the running game. I’m trying to do better with my pass rush.”
Young had a career-high seven tackles against Texas Southern and went through a three-game stretch with 18 tackles and had 1½ tackles for loss for minus-15 yards.
In last year’s game with Southern, Young had four tackles and recovered a fumble but lamented MVSU’s losing hold of a 13-0 lead and eventually losing 44-13 at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
“We were up early by two touchdowns, but they came back and beat us,” Young said. “I’m looking forward to playing them.”
-- Advocate sportswriter Les East contributed to this report.