The Washington Post Sunday

Washington opens a new season with Chase Young’s profile rising

Washington defensive end’s off-field interests have grown since his stellar rookie year, but he knows his play matters most

- BY SAM FORTIER

The latest stop in Chase Young’s whirlwind offseason was an art gallery near downtown Los Angeles. Inside, in front of an array of lights and cameras set up to shoot an eBay commercial, Young sat on a long couch. On his wrist was a rose gold Presidenti­al Rolex, the crown jewel of his watch collection, the one he planned to wear if he ever met Barack Obama.

It was mid-May. Young was jetting between Miami and Los Angeles, fitting his intense training program around shoots with “Family Feud,” USAA, Beats, Old Spice, Under Armour and a half-dozen others. He arrived on sets as early as 8 a.m. and left as late as 6 p.m., and the downtime he had grown accustomed to disappeare­d.

“Being a businessma­n is not easy,” Young said in a recent interview. “Definitely something I had to get used to.”

As a rookie, Young had filmed a few endorsemen­ts but remained relatively low-key, intent on showing the Washington Football Team and everyone else he was worth the No. 2 overall pick — that he wasn’t, as he put it, “on bull----.” But after a strong season in which teammates voted him a captain and he was named the defensive rookie of the year, Young allowed himself to lean into his growing profile.

This offseason, Young had to learn how to balance the competing demands of business and football, juggling shoots with training and

Chargers at Washington Today, 1 p.m., WUSA (Ch. 9)

his team responsibi­lities while adjusting to his status as one of the NFL’s rising young stars. Greg Young, Chase’s father, worries the strain may one day become overwhelmi­ng, but for now, he and others believe Young has remained discipline­d, growing as a player and a pitchman.

“Those type of accolades bring a lot of different attention,” said former NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was named the defensive rookie of the year in 2005. “People want you to show up everywhere, at this place [and that place]. It comes at you very fast.”

This past spring, Young skipped the team’s voluntary workouts in part to continue filming. At the time, Coach Ron Rivera appeared to be irked — Young was the only player absent — but he later supported his young star and said Young sent him regular training videos and came by the office to talk when he was in town.

“He has learned to manage his time,” Rivera said recently, adding, “I feel comfortabl­e and good about what he’s doing.”

Young is perhaps the most marketable Washington football star since Robert Griffin III, with the top-selling jersey among all NFL defensive players this spring. But Young says he understand­s the precarity of his position, that growth isn’t guaranteed. If he slows down or falls off on the field, all of it could vanish. So he surrounded himself with a team of people to minimize intrusions, to keep his new life as close as possible to the singular, football-focused bubble he had lived in since he was a child in Cheltenham, Md.

That day in the art gallery, Young recalled last week, he never felt more like a businessma­n, like a pro. He was wearing makeup, flashing the Presidenti­al Rolex, pitching one of the world’s 500 most valuable companies five weeks after turning 22. He was nailing his lines or editing them to fit his voice: “I don’t want to look like a dummy walking with a bustdown watch,” he said.

What Young wants from business is vague and still evolving — he said his goal is to be the best, same as football — but whatever it ends up being, Young is clear-eyed about one thing: Success on the field is the only way to get there.

“I have to continue to play well,” he said.

The big picture: Be the best

One of Young’s first profession­al decisions was a gamble. He passed on known NFL agents for Klutch Sports Group, the agency with a long list of NBA superstars. Young bet on Klutch, which didn’t officially have a football division at the time, because he admired LeBron James, the company’s star client, and trusted the vision of its CEO, Rich Paul. After their meeting in January 2020, Young came away thrilled with the era of athlete empowermen­t the firm represente­d, said Young’s manager, Ian Thomas, as well as the idea of being “the LeBron of football.”

“That made me a little nervous. It’s like, ‘Lord, they’re new at football,’ ” said Carla Young, Chase’s mother. “But Chase has gone with his gut feelings in business several times, and it’s like, ‘Okay, you just have that feeling.’ ”

Klutch emphasized performanc­e first, agent Damarius Bilbo said. Young needed to pour “everything into football so that the brand opportunit­ies and the marketing deals will eventually come.” Bilbo and others stressed the big picture: Young should sign deals only with brands he likes because a relationsh­ip is more valuable than a deal. Young said he turned down “a good amount” from Red Bull and would soon sign with Adrenaline Shoc, an all-natural energy drink.

“Business-wise, with Klutch, they like that,” Young said, nodding. He pointed to their client list. “All the brands know they have . . . all the basketball dudes. Now when it comes to football side, I’m their first option. They got to bring some good [expletive] to the table.”

Behind the scenes, as Young navigated this new terrain, the spotlight fell on Thomas, his manager. He coordinate­d everything — travel, accommodat­ions, chefs, workouts, shoots — to ensure Young was not overextend­ed. Thomas studied how Klutch handled Young and other clients, how their team sifted through proposand broke down the few they signed into small, actionable steps that wouldn’t interfere with training.

“That’s something that attracted us [to them], just to see how to deal with growth and make something bigger than yourself,” Thomas said. “And at the end of the day, it’s only going to elevate Chase as he prepares me, his team and everybody around him to continue to grow. We got to all grow together.”

Young sought similar growth in his game, and in late February he hired a new trainer. He switched from Martin Gibson, whom he had worked with since high school, to Ed Page, a 45-year-old former college football player. Thomas had coached with Page at St. Vincent Pallotti, the high school where he met Young, and thought the strength-and-conditioni­ng coach’s “science-based” approach might help. Young was looking for help with injury mitigation in one area in particular.

“My feet were terrible,” Young said. “We started with toes, your feet and the ankles. It was like, if your ankle ain’t moving good, you can [expletive] up your knee. If your knee ain’t working good, you can [expletive] up something else.”

Young, who had dealt with high-ankle sprains in college and suffered a sprain in last season’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay, transforme­d his feet. He wore toe shoes, often lifted weights barefoot and did specific exercises, such as one called “short foot.” Slowly, the feet got stronger, eventually getting so his arches deepened, Young said.

Page looked for other inefficien­cies. He tweaked Young’s sprinting form to improve his front-side mechanics, used single-limb exercises to minimize body imbalances and even retrained his breathing. Page wouldn’t delve into the finer details of those adjustment­s — Young keeps some secrets — but he said they worked out six days per week and didn’t miss once.

A few weeks before training camp, Young returned home and honed his football techniques with Bernard Joseph, his uncle who played at Virginia Tech. They refined subtle nuances, such as hand fighting and how to corner a tackle so Young only had to work half his body. Joseph also emphasized situationa­l awareness: get a hand in the passing lane instead of trying a long move on third and short. “Don’t just be a pass-rusher,” he stressed.

Joseph said he saw a change not just in his physique — though “Chase Young is in the best shape of his life, bar none,” he said — but in approach. Page was at every workout, managing every rep, to ensure Young didn’t overdo it and risk disrupting recovery.

“Everything he does now is intentiona­l,” Joseph said. “There’s an end product he's looking for. The goal now is for him to not peak until [the season].”

Underneath the glitzy veneer of this offseason, Thomas said, there has been no question about Young’s focus. The ultimate goal remains on the field.

“The big picture isn’t to be Leals Bron,” he said. “The big picture is to be the best — and to be seen as though by the masses.”

Bringing it all together

At some point, Greg Young, Chase’s father, worries his son’s love of football will lessen. On the field, when Young dances during a TV timeout, jokes with anyone who will listen or sprints down the sideline like he did in last season’s playoffs to howl into a camera, Greg gets glimpses of the eager little boy he taught to play the game. But he worries Young’s body will break down, that the business will overwhelm the sport — that something, anything will dim his son’s joy.

These concerns didn’t come from anything Young did, and Greg said he doesn’t believe his fears will come true for at least eight years, if ever. But this summer, while watching gymnast Simone Biles remove herself from competitio­n at the Olympics because of mental health concerns, Greg took note of the weight that accompanie­s the position his son wants to achieve.

Perhaps because he’s a father who has always had a plan for his son, an idea came to Greg. He told Young that if he ever fell out of love with football he could become the first player to switch from the NFL to the NBA. He insisted his son had the size and the athleticis­m.

“He was laughing,” Greg said, “but I was serious.”

In the preseason, Young looked like he was having a blast. In Richmond for training camp, Young played in front of Washingmus­cular ton’s fans for the first time. They cheered loudest when they heard his name, and kids ran up to the rope, risking a glare from team staffers to call to him. Young often grinned and waved back, and over the next few days, No. 99 jerseys dotted the facility, almost equaling the number of throwback jerseys from the team’s glory days.

“I never even played with fans,” Young said. “Everything that comes with that, just big play —” he made the sounds of a padcrunchi­ng hit, the roar of a crowd. He beamed.

It was six days before the season opener, and Young said he felt better than ever. He is healthy, unlike last season, when a hip injury nagged until late November. He pointed out that from Week 10 to 17 he totaled most of his stats: Four of his 7.5 sacks, five of his 10 tackles for loss, three of his four forced fumbles.

“Definitely way more explosive than I was last year,” Young said. “Everything I’m doing now is more Week [10] to 17 — and maybe more.”

He was asked what he wanted to do after this season. The possibilit­ies are endless — those around him have mentioned podcasts, reality TV, a program to promote criminal justice reform — but he didn’t have any specifics in mind. He pointed out that while this offseason was a beginning, he couldn’t think about business. The deals and the cameras would all be there when he was ready again.

“It’s my job to bring it all together and play [well],” he said.

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 ?? JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Chase Young spent a lot of time over the summer making commercial­s and building his portfolio, but he and the people closest to him make sure football remains the first priority.
JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST Chase Young spent a lot of time over the summer making commercial­s and building his portfolio, but he and the people closest to him make sure football remains the first priority.
 ?? JoNaThaN NEWToN/ThE WaShiNGToN PoST ?? Washington’s Chase Young enters his second NFL season knowing that his popularity with fans and with corporatio­ns looking for a pitchman is based on his on-field success.
JoNaThaN NEWToN/ThE WaShiNGToN PoST Washington’s Chase Young enters his second NFL season knowing that his popularity with fans and with corporatio­ns looking for a pitchman is based on his on-field success.

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