New Orleans defensive back tackles his college degree

Thomas Gallick

Usama Young comes back to Kent State to complete final classes

Seventy-five tackles into his National Football League career, Usama Young, defensive back for the New Orleans Saints, decided the time was finally right to tackle an off-the-field accomplishment: his graduation.

The two-year NFL veteran decided this semester was the right time to finish up his three remaining required classes for his Kent State degree.

Young, drafted in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft after a standout career at Kent State, said he always planned to finish his degree in health and physical education, even after making it to the pros.

“It’s always been a goal that I’ve wanted to accomplish, and after two years with the Saints, I saw an opening in my schedule,” Young said.

Flashes in the pros

Saints cornerback Usama Young isn’t the only former Kent State player making a name for himself in the NFL. Here’s a look at some other former Flashes in the pros:

&bull James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers: Harrison has exploded onto the scene since becoming a starter at linebacker in 2007. The six-year veteran has made two straight Pro Bowls, was named 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII, setting a big game record.

&bull Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns: In Cribbs’ four-year NFL career, the former Kent State quarterback had become one of the top kick returners in the league. He was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2007 season, when he returned two kickoffs and a punt for touchdowns.

&bull Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers: Gates didn’t even play football at Kent State, but it hasn’t mattered in the pros. The former Flashes’ basketball player has become one of the best tight ends in the league, being selected to five straight Pro Bowls.

&bull Abe Elam, New York Jets: The three-year veteran started nine games last season for the Jets, recording 69 tackles and returning an interception 69 yards for a touchdown.

&bull Jack Williams, Denver Broncos: The former Kent State cornerback was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft and made 13 tackles in his rookie season.

Young said his parents “always wanted (him) to get through school” and noted his mother’s background as an educator added extra inspiration.

Kent State football coach Doug Martin said returning to school was always in Young’s plans.

“Before he left, we talked about what he needed to do (to get his degree),” Martin said. “It was his plan all along because getting his degree was always really important to his parents. The thing about Usama is he came back and he stuck to the plan, and I’m really proud of him for that.”

Before Young made the leap to the pros, he was a leader both on the field and in the locker room for Kent State.

“Absolutely (he was a leader),” Martin said. “He’s really intelligent on and off the field. Even as a freshman he was very mature.”

Young was one of the dominant defensive forces in the Flashes’ 6-6 season in 2006, a season in which he forced four fumbles, intercepted four passes and drew the eyes of professional scouts.

The Saints took Young as the 66th overall pick in the 2007 draft, making him the first Kent State player to be drafted since tight end Jason Gavadza was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round in 2000.

He made an immediate impact in the NFL, playing in 14 games and recording 25 tackles in his rookie season. He recorded two milestones in his sophomore season, with his first two starts at the professional level and his first two interceptions.

Young said in many ways, graduating from college would mean more than any achievements he could accomplish on the football field.

“I play professional football,” Young said. “That’s great, but that can end. The average career of a pro football player isn’t that long. A degree will help me out after football.”

Contact assistant sports editor Thomas Gallick at [email protected].