New Orleans Saints DB Usama Young
Legends Microsoft Teams Video Call with New Orleans Media
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Can you talk about how your role as manager of NFL player engagement at the league office came to fruition?
"It was a fun journey, long process. It was one that for me was tough, because I tore my ACL, LCL (and) hamstring off the bone and when I realized that I was no longer going to run this 4.4 forty or jump this 40 plus inch vertical and I didn't have those tools to succeed, I had to hang them up. I didn't want to leave the game, but I had to. I wasn't as fast as I was going to be (in the past) and I went into a little dark place. I didn't really want to talk to anybody. And eventually, I came into this understanding where I've have to continue to compete (in life). I've gotten to continue to serve and I landed an opportunity, a Legends development program (internship) that the NFL put out there and it allowed me an opportunity to serve six months in player engagement. In the role that I'm in currently as a manager of player engagement, I have been able to see what the NFL provides to players throughout their life cycle and beyond. Now I support that in those four pillars, from continuing education, to professional development, to financial literacy and overall total wellness. So being able to be a part of that, being able to transition and pour (knowledge) into the guys that are sitting in seats that I'm in now, it's been a dream come true."
Is your current kind of role just helping guys reconcile with the end of their career the way you kind of had to go through it yourself? Like, are you trying to give them a better path with that?
"I would say that's part of it. Part of it, but I wouldn't limit it to just that, the end of your NFL experience. And we say experience because careers, they usually last a lot longer than the NFL tenure. Through my NFL experience, I dealt with certain things that a lot of players deal with, certain obstacles that you've got to get through. I wouldn't just say that it's limited to afterwards, it's during, it's preparing for life after football, it's making the most out of the opportunity that you're awarded to be able to play the game at a high level, but it's taking advantage of those opportunities. Starting my career in New Orleans, I didn't understand how great it was or how great of a position I was in to make a lasting impact until I got there and served there for a year or two. And then I started to find my own in terms of the community. But so many players find different things or are assisted by player engagement. Guys like Fred McAfee that help them out throughout. He's the DPE (Director of Player Engagement) there, he's one of the guys that assists in their development and it's a long lasting impact that goes on throughout the player life cycle and beyond."
Can you talk about your Believe in U foundation and what inspired you to start it?
"Yeah, I can. Believe in U, it actually was something that I started being in New Orleans. I was led to just start (it) while playing. It was 2007, when I arrived as a draft pick and I saw everyone doing so much work in the community from building homes, from volunteering, talking to students at different schools at charter schools, wherever it was, we were doing work as a team. And I said, you know what? I'm doing so much in New Orleans and as I'm doing so much in my hometown, I'd like to put a name on it and we can get something going that's more formal. In 2009, we started the Usama Young Youth Foundation, which was cool. But, after every talk that I was having with youth, after every talk that I was having with these younger adults, we kept on telling them we believe in you. We'd take them on a college tours and say, hey, you might go to school. You might be a professional. We believe in you, if your goal is this and that we believe in you. And I said, man, it's a nice little play with words. Believe in U, everybody calls me U. But at the same time, we're telling the youth that we believe in them. And we renamed it. We focus more on empowering our youth through education, volunteerism and civic engagement and Believe in U has gone on to not only support communities and the areas that I played, but other communities throughout the nation."
What's the one piece of advice you would give a rookie just coming into the league right now?
"Well, one thing is they're going through something that none of us have been through. This pandemic has changed our society, has changed the way we do things. I don't think anyone on this phone envisioned themselves holding interviews like this during what is it, July now, and leading into training camp and not being too sure about what's to come with the level of uncertainty at its highest. I always say just be prepared, be prepared. And when I say be prepared, that was something that Dennis Allen told me years ago, Hey, look, be prepared. It's better to be prepared and not get the opportunity than to get the opportunity and not be prepared. And when I say that, it is pretty broad. It could be seen as vague, but staying in shape is something that's easy. Even if you cannot do group workouts right now, even if you are limited to the gym, getting your wind up, being able to run four miles would be my advice to them, but also understanding that you have got to get in this playbook and take as many mental reps as possible. So be prepared, be in shape, get as many mental reps as possible and when you get on that football field, it's going to go fast. So just be ready."
Could you put in perspective, how it hasn't gone all that fast for Drew (Brees) and Sean (Payton). You mentioned Dennis Allen, the fact that you got drafted here 13 years ago and some of those guys are still here. Do you find that just to be remarkable and does that maybe strengthen your connection to this organization because people that drafted you are still here and at least a couple of the players are still around at some point?
"Absolutely. It is an amazing organization. (The) New Orleans Saints, when I first got here, I had no clue. When I first got to New Orleans, I had no clue what type of tradition it was what type of men Sean Payton or Dennis Allen, Mickey Loomis, Tom Benson (are and were), Mrs. Gayle Benson now as the leader of this team, the leader of the organization (is). To be able to spend the first part of my years in New Orleans, it was something that I didn't know how long it will last, but I was going to cherish it every day I was there. Now you talk about those guys 13 years later that are still there and it is a tribute to what they built and what they put together. You have got the utmost respect for them because you see guys that you played alongside, that are now in the building. They might be coaching, they might be doing other things in media from Zach Strief to Leigh Torrence or Aaron Glenn. And then also having the coaches that were there while you were there and trainers that were there while you were there. And even some of the media, I am seeing names pop up and I am like, wow, I remember doing an interview with them. It is special. I think it's unique because if you look around the league, there's not too many organizations that are like that. It's a tribute to why you all have been so successful in New Orleans. I think that chemistry, it holds tremendous weight and it's one of the main reasons that you all have been successful."
Can you just bring me back to when the Saints played the Patriots in '09? I know you guys tried to downplay that game. How important was that game and how surprised were you when Tom Brady basically waved the white flag and came out like midway through the fourth quarter? I don't know if we've ever seen that before or even after that.
"I'm not going to lie here. We downplayed games and I think you all know it being that you are long tenured media representatives. You know that guys are not, well very rarely, are guys are guys going to say, this is the biggest game of the year or this is that. No, we're going downplay it and we're going to go out and play as fast as possible. We're going to do what we prepared to do throughout the week and nothing's going to change in terms of our mindset. But I think going into that game, which was unique for me, it's like, we've got two of the best matched up here. As a defense, we had been playing all out throughout the year, but we never really got too much acclaim and we didn't play for the acclaim, but I still remember one of my, I call him a mentor now, but Mike McKenzie coming back and making plays that game, that I was like, this dude has found the fountain of youth. It's amazing to see and amazing to look back as you're bringing back memories and bringing up that one, it's one of those ones that you you'll never forget. You never see that team quit. It's always until it's zero on the clock, but when you saw that you like, you knew, you knew you handed it to him."
How gratifying was it to see Tom Brady benched? I mean, it was over, they gave up like midway through the fourth quarter. How gratifying was that for a defense for you guys to be able to do that?
"You're familiar with defense, you know we loved it. You know we looked at that film and we celebrated. We celebrated every win, but that one was unique because like you said, it's (Tom) Brady."
When you're talking to guys who are transitioning from their NFL experience to what comes next, what's kind of the key for you or what do you try to get across to them?
"I think this is where it is tough for some coaches or even front office staff to really accept. But my one thing, the one thing that I really want to have guys take in is that you've got to start thinking about life after football while you're playing. And I'm not saying to put your business plans or your goals outside of the game before you put your playbook, or before you put, you know, being in shape. I'm thinking if you start to think about that transition and understand that it's going to be a reality while you're playing, you can line up so many different steps to achieve even that goal. Now, you think about it like this, where the guy like myself, I started playing football at a young age. I prepared for success on the field since seven years old. And I had that success until I was 29 years old. So that's 22 years of commitment to football. And if I only was in football, I'm going to set myself up for failure later on. So start to think about it at the earlier stages of your NFL experience. And then you'll start to line up different things that you'll be able to get into even while you're playing. And if not, after you walked away from the game."
Do you think Dennis Allen gets unfair looks for head coaching jobs because of his record in Oakland and do you think he will get another chance to be a head coach in this league?
"Initially, I go back in my head to my rookie year and I see Dennis Allen, DA as an assistant D-line coach. And then the next year he goes, and he's an assistant in the DB room and you see his understanding of the game. You see the knowledge, you see the passion, you see the leadership that he possesses, leadership traits that he presents. And you see him grow into being, not just the DB coach, but (to) go on and have success as a defensive coordinator in Denver. And while he was in Denver, I was in Cleveland. I kept in touch (with him) and eventually seeing him in Oakland as a head coach and we did not have success. One thing that I've always owned and I've always owned as a player is if we do not have success, it is on us, not executing. The coach has put a great game plan together, and I will never doubt (or) I will never question the game plans. I never questioned his coaching ability because he is on point with it. Dennis Allen is on point and when it comes to being a head coach, I never say, oh, because he had a bad record in Oakland, we didn't perform, we didn't execute. I still remember after some losses, I'm like coach and my bad, I let you down. And I don't know if the other 50, 60 guys were saying the same thing, but I've always been that guy. Hey, we've got to execute. We've got to prepare and we've got to put it out there on Sundays, Mondays, Thursday, Saturdays, whatever day you play, we have got to win the games. I wouldn't hold that Oakland record for the lack of success that we had there in terms of his future candidacy as a coach."
What's your favorite Sean Payton story?
"My story might switch it up a little bit, because it's not him partying, dancing and bringing money into it. It's more so him coaching me up as a young player in the league. I was fortunate to go to London twice during my NFL years. And the first time was when we played San Diego in 2008 and I wanted to host a trip. I wanted all the guys there, my boys to go to Amsterdam and take the train in different places in London and to do this I wasn't going to ask for permission. I was just going to do it. So I organized all the guys and I was ready to go and before we got on that train, I get the call from our head of security at the time and he's like, hey, get back here. Sean (Payton) wants to see you. And I'm like, oh my goodness. I'm about to get cut in London. I'm about to get cut in London and I get back. Then we have a talk and he's like, we're already overseas. We're in a different continent. What are you trying to do? Why are you trying to go visit? I'm like, coach, I don't know if I'm ever going to come back to London. I don't know if I'm ever going to get to do this again. I just want to enjoy myself. And he reminded me at that time. This is a business trip, we were about our business and if we win this game. He didn't say this verbatim, but I understood it. I would probably be cut and that's Sean Payton to a T like, hey, this is business. We're going to handle our business, now after we win we can party. But while we're here, let's handle this. So, I mean, I've got several stories, but I gotta take him to when, uh, I'm glad we went out in London that week."
Which offseason addition do you think will have the biggest impact?
"You know, I'm biased and you probably already knew that the answer to this one, uh, you've got leaders throughout the team offensive and defensive, but the one that just got brought back in Malcolm Jenkins. I think he'll make a tremendous impact and that impact won't just be on the field. It'll be within the walls of the Saints' facility. It'll be out in the community. It'll be long lasting and you all got a glimpse of it early on in his career in terms of the leader that he was, but on the field he's going to make everyone around him better and that's Malcolm Jenkins easily. That's what I think."
I have to ask you about this, your Wikipedia entry has a story about you tackling a rabib dog and like a Peewee football game, is that true?
"Who makes these edits man? Who makes these edits? That's what I want to know. Somebodies comical, I tell all the youth that get their book reports or whatever, homework that they're doing. If they get it off a Wikipedia, make sure they do their fact checking. No, it didn't happen now. I'm not a dog person, but if a rabib dog did come on the field I'm going to have to take care of it. I'm going to have to get it out of there and we are going to have to get back to playing. Leo, my dog, I love you, dude. I love you. But come on, she's my wife's (dog)."
I remember when you got here in 2007, one of the first events he always bring the rookies was the crawfish eating. And I recall vividly that you and some of the other rookies struggled with that. Did you ever come around to cross the issue because it's still something that's, you know, a little bit of a foreign food to you?
"Absolutely. I spent my first four years in New Orleans and it was no way I was going to remain untrue to embracing that crawfish crab, whatever it was, I was going to be on it. Yes eventually I did embrace it. My brother still lives in New Orleans. Elicia (Broussard Sheridan), who you all know is still in New Orleans and her family has restaurants. Whenever I'm going there, whenever I'm in New Orleans, I have to make sure that I have the crawfish."
What is your training camp battle to watch this year on defense?
"That's going to be real. I say Mike Thomas versus the defense. I mean and I say that, just jokingly because, uh, when you look at him, I mean, you all are familiar. You all see him practice way more than me. I get to see the games and every now and then I visit. But when you look at how crafty of a route runner he is, how Drew (Brees) throws every receiver open, but his catch radius is like no other. I look forward to seeing that. I look forward to just seeing guys play full speed ahead. You've got so many guys on that offense that are weapons, but also so many guys on the defense that want to compete and want to lead. Overall, just come out on top."