UCLA linebacker Kenny Young doesn’t have some deep, meaningful reason of why he first started wearing No. 42.
It wasn’t his lucky number or the number his dad wore or the number of some linebacker he idolized growing up.
It was simply the number his high school football coach J.T. Curtis gave him years ago.
“So I just tried to make the number look good,” Young said.
Young did just that in his playing days at John Curtis Christian School, where he helped the Patriots win three state championships.
Young, known for his bone-jarring hits, was an easy choice for this newspaper’s Small School Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2013 when he recorded 122 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and four sacks. His 25-tackle, one-sack performance against St. Augustine pretty much sealed the deal on that selection.
He decided to play his college ball in sunny California, and decided to continue wearing No. 42 at UCLA.
Turns out, it was an historic decision.
UCLA announced last fall they would be retiring the No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, one of the school’s most notable alums.
No UCLA athletes will ever be issued the No. 42 again.
However, the three Bruins who currently wear No. 42 (a senior women’s soccer player, a sophomore softball player and Young) will be allowed to finish their college careers wearing the number.
Young, who will be a sophomore in the fall, is the youngest of the trio, and thus will be the last UCLA athlete to wear the iconic number of the guy who broke baseball’s color barrier.
“It’s an honor to be the last one to wear the number and represent his legacy,” Young said. “It’s a cool thing and great to be a part of history. I want to make any number I wear look good, so I’m going to rock the number hard.”
Young, a four-star recruit, showed plenty of promise in his first season at UCLA, giving folks a glimpse of why he was recruited by schools from all across the country.
He didn’t get a redshirt.
No, he got a blue and gold one and played as a true freshman. He started six games and played in all 13, recording 35 tackles. He had a season-best five tackles against Memphis. He’s projected as a starter on depth charts headed into the fall.
He’ll look to put up even bigger numbers as a sophomore wearing the number of the late Robinson, who starred in baseball, football, basketball and track at UCLA.
Robinson wore several numbers at UCLA, but 42 is the one most associated with him. The number has been retired in Major League Baseball because of Robinson, who integrated baseball in a time many didn’t want it to be integrated.
He helped pave the way for black athletes like Young, who someday hopes to make it to the NFL.
Young is far too young to have endured any of the things Robinson went though, but he did watch the movie “42,” which told Robinson’s story.
“He is definitely inspiring,” Young said. “Not just him playing four sports in college, but him breaking the color barrier and all the things he had to go up against. He had to fight on a daily basis, so his perseverance was pretty strong. He showed a lot of leadership. Not just leading himself to where he wanted to be, but leading in something to help the black culture.”
There are constant reminders of Robinson around UCLA for Young.
The No. 42 will be permanently displayed in all the school’s athletic venues. The number is now on permanent display near one of the scoreboards in the Rose Bowl.
And, for a few more seasons, it will be on the jersey of a hard-hitting linebacker from lil ’ole Boutte, Louisiana.
He’s over 1,900 miles from home, but says there is no other place he’d rather be.
“It was the best decision I ever made in my life as far as setting me up for the future,” Young said. “I could’ve easily went down the street to LSU or somewhere closer. I don’t have family here, so I have to think for myself and do things for myself. It makes you grow up and become a man early. My whole thing was to be different and experience some things I could have never experienced. Here, I have experienced some things and met some great people.”
And then there’s the one great person he never got a chance to meet.
He’ll get to be the last one to wear his number instead.