SANTA ANA, Calif. — With five-star quarterback Bryce Young flipping his commitment from USC to Alabama on Sunday, the best player on the No. 1 team in the country will be heading across the country to play his college ball.
Through four games, Young has completed 73.5% of his passes and thrown 14 touchdowns with just one interception for Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California). He threw for more than 500 yards and seven touchdowns against Arizona powerhouse Centennial before rushing for four touchdowns against then-No. 4 St. Frances Academy of Baltimore a week later.
He ranks No. 4 overall in the 2020 class, according to 247Sports.
But Young is much more than eye-popping numbers on a stat sheet. His accuracy and awareness of the field, both in the pocket and while scrambling, allows him to make plays few others can.
Take the Centennial game in Week 3, for example. One particular play stands out. Young escaped the pocket and rolled to his right. Then, before stepping out of bounds, he fired a pass to the back of the end zone for three-star receiver Kody Epps, who was rolling with Young. The touchdown looked easy against the two-time defending Arizona champion.
“We’ve never had (a quarterback) like that,” head coach Bruce Rollinson said. “There are times that I think he has eyes on the side of his head. His peripheral vision, his sense, his smell, his awareness is just uncanny.”
I can see why Netflix QB1 following him all season. Bryce Young is amazing. 34-13 Mater Dei 5:05 2Q pic.twitter.com/tHYIj3fUMM
— Richard Obert (@azc_obert) September 7, 2019
The Mater Dei offense is predicated on Young using his feet to find openings as his receivers follow him.
“I caught onto how he moves, and it’s almost instinctual,” Epps said. “I feel like I understand where he’s going to go as soon as I can see him scrambling. … It’s just an in-the-moment type thing. As soon as he starts scrambling, I know where I need to be for him to give me the ball, and other receivers know, (too).”
Young is among the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, but coming into the St. Frances Academy game, he only had 12 carries on the season. Against a dominant Panthers line, he rushed 14 times for 105 yards and four scores, to go with 247 passing yards.
He moved the ball methodically downfield with his ultra-quick release and creativity. At one point, he rolled out and moved as if he was going to take off downfield — but instead threw a shovel pass several yards forward to running back Cam Leofa. It turned into a gain of 22.
“That wasn’t designed,” Rollinson said after the game. “That’s what he does. That’s the magic that I’m talking about. He’s getting flushed out, all heck is breaking loose, and how does he have the presence to go, ‘OK, there’s Leofa’?”
The biggest qualities that stand out about Young are his maturity and play calling. Rollinson said Young’s ability to call plays and adjust at the line of scrimmage already compares favorably to USC quarterback JT Daniels, who began doing the same thing during his own illustrious Mater Dei career.
“Bryce is right there right now,” Rollinson said.
Daniels and Young have two different playing styles. While Daniels preferred to stay in the pocket at Mater Dei, Young is at his best when he’s moving, improvising and discombobulating the defense.
“That’s Bryce’s whole thing,” said Rollinson, recalling the summer of 2018, before Young’s first season on the team, when coaches wanted to tell him to move around and step up in the pocket. Rollinson told them to back off.
“I go, ‘Guys, I don’t know where he’s going but when he gets out, magic happens … just let him go.”
Rollinson estimated that Young had called about 40% to 50% of the plays through three games. It’s an audible-driven offense, with Young often taking several seconds pre-snap to alert his teammates to what he sees and what they need to do.
“We’ll have some plays where I’m calling, and there’s some plays where I have the freedom to get out of plays. For me, I like to make sure that I know where everyone’s at,” Young said. “And then there’s a lot that comes from film study to where you can predict where certain people are going to go, what rotation you might get, what blitz you might get.
“You just have to know all that and make sure that pregame and during the week, you’re repping that and making sure when you get a certain look, you know where you want to be and what play you want to be in. So really, I’m just looking at what the defense is giving me and making sure that we’re in the best play we can be.”
He has become proficient enough that four-star offensive lineman Myles Murao said teammates can’t tell if the call is coming from him or offensive coordinator Dave Money.
“Honestly, we don’t know the difference, because he just tells us in the huddle. We don’t know if he’s getting the signal or if he’s making it himself,” Murao said.
Murao, who also played with Daniels, said the two have comparable attributes.
“He’s a genius,” Murao said of Young. “That’s something that they both have in common as well. They’re both really smart.”
This isn’t simply natural growth, though that is part of it. Young responded to multiple questions by talking about film study. Additionally, the receiving corps talks about how close they all are and how much that helps them when improvising.
CJ Williams, a four-star 2020 receiver, said the group worked tirelessly over the offseason to gain chemistry and learn each other’s styles.
“He’s a mobile quarterback. He can go anywhere. He’s unpredictable,” Williams said. “The fact that he can go anywhere means we have to be able to do anything.”
As good as Young was last year, completing almost 70% of his passes for 3,846 yards and 36 touchdowns to six interceptions, it was fair to wonder how much of that was due to the gravity of wide receiver Bru McCoy, a five-star recruit now at USC. Young played extremely well, but it could be tough to differentiate his prowess from that of McCoy, who constantly drew defenders toward him yet still finished with 18 touchdowns and 1,428 yards.
This season, Young has answered that question with flying colors. His top five targets from 2018 graduated, but Young is looking better than ever. This season, the corps is more balanced despite Epps being the only senior.
“It was definitely a different dynamic (last year) from going to one clear-cut primary receiver to now five guys that are just as dangerous, are really interchangeable as far as how good they are, and how much confidence I have in them,” Young said. “There’s definitely a different dynamic on and off the field. It took some getting used to, but I’m really happy.”
As Alabama lands its heir apparent to Tua Tagovailoa, California universities lose another top quarterback. The Crimson Tide is getting a player who can fit throws into small windows both in the pocket and while scrambling, who can take off at will, and who has learned to manage receivers’ egos, call plays and be a leader.
“We all look up to him. He makes the right call every single time. You just gotta trust it. Coach Money trusts him. We trust him. Coach Rollinson trusts him,” Williams said. “From Bryce, we see smart play calls. He likes to move the ball down the field and put the ball in the end zone. There’s nothing more you can ask than that.”