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A Walk-On Who Can Really Run : Extra Effort Makes Bruin Kevin Young a Top Hurdler

March 26, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

As usual, the undefeated UCLA track team (4-0) is stocked with many of the best of the collegiate track world.

The widely recruited performers include All-American Danny Everitt (400 meters), 1986 Pac-10 100-meter champion Mike Marsh, Henry Thomas, who runs a sizzling 20.49 for 200 meters and Steve Kerho, the 110-meter high-hurdle and 400 intermediate-hurdle Pac-10 champion in 1985.

But one of the Bruin stars doesn't fall into the heavily recruited column. Kevin Young is a walk-on.

The junior from Jordan High was so unimpressive as a freshman that he was not in the plans of the coaching staff.

"When Kevin came here, he was like a little kid that would stumble on the ground," said sprint coach John Smith, who works most with Young. "What I saw was a body sitting there, truly untapped."

But Young, who heard he might be benched for the 1985 season, was determined to change the opinion of the coaching staff.

"I found out the coaches wanted to redshirt me," Young said. "I didn't say much to them and came out to the track and worked hard."

The extra effort paid off. The 6-4 Young had become one of the best hurdlers in Bruin history by the end of his sophomore year.

"When he got here, he was 6-2 and 163 pounds," Smith said. "The next year he grew two inches and gained weight and got stronger."

Those 2 inches and 13 pounds made a difference in the four track and field events in which he competes.

The 176-pound junior engraved his name in the record books last year by winning the Pac-10 400-meter intermediate hurdles with a meet record of 49.02 and earning All-American honors at the NCAA meet in Indiana after improving his time to 48.77. He placed second.

Young recalls the race in Indiana, his personal best, as the most satisfying in his career, even though he took only 11 steps before leaping over the fifth hurdle. The norm is 13 to 14.

"I was kind of nervous, but when the gun went off, I just went out and ran. I didn't even look over my shoulder, and I usually do. The 11 steps toward the end--well it looked real weird, but it made the race more interesting."

Though the stepping error slowed him, his time ranked second among American college performers and 10th in the world.

"He's a natural hurdler and there's no reason why he can't be one of the best in the world," Smith said. "He runs over the hurdles so smoothly it's like poetry in motion."

The multi-talented athlete also competes in relays and jumping events.

Young teams up with Anthony Washington, John Stanich and Everett for UCLA's fastest 1,600- meter relay team. The four set a school record of 3 minutes, 1.95 seconds with a second-place finish in last year's NCAA meet.

"He's thin and light and quick, so he adds a lot of speed in the relays," Smith said.

The 20-year-old is also known for his performances in the 110 high hurdles and the long jump in which he placed third in last year's Pac-10 meet with a 24-9.

"A lot of people think I'm going to get burned out in too many events," Young said. "But it doesn't feel that way at all. I enjoy all, especially the relay because it's a team effort."

Signs of burnout were hardly visible a couple of weeks ago when Young led the Bruins to a 102-55 Pac-10 victory over Arizona.

He was all smiles after winning the long jump (23-8), the 110 high hurdles (14.29) and the 400 intermediate hurdles (51.06).

"The only problem with Kevin is that he's so good in all the events that we just want to use him in all of them," Smith said.

UCLA jumps coach Steve Lang agrees: "Kevin is just an athlete with unlimited potential. He's got strength, flexibility, determination and confidence. He's our most valuable athlete, without a doubt."

Young's impressive sophomore season earned him a trip to the World Games in Moscow and the Olympic Sports Festival in Europe.

"I didn't do too well," Young said. "It was my first meet with a whole reign of world-class athletes and I was nervous. I even ran against Edwin Moses," the world record holder in the 400 intermediate hurdles.

A little sadder but wiser, Young returned to UCLA, which probably is lucky to have him. Young originally wanted to go to USC but wasn't accepted.

He was never recruited for track so all he had was a $1,000 scholarship that the Coca-Cola Co. awarded to high school athletes in a Future Olympians program.

It was mainly his 1984 finish in the 110 high hurdles during his senior year at Jordan that earned Young his scholarship. He placed third in the state meet that year.

"Before that all I really did was jump. It wasn't until my last year in high school that I started to run," Young said.

Now running is what he does best. Even though it's early in the season, Young qualified for the NCAA meet in the 400 hurdles with a 50.49 finish at Drake Stadium and for the Pac-10 meet in the 110 hurdles with a 14.29 finish at Drake.

He'll use the rest of the season to work on his goal: To break former Bruin Andre Phillip's 1981 record (48.10) in the 400 hurdles.

"I want that record," said Young.

"He'll be one of the best intermediate hurdlers around in a couple of years," Smith said. "He'll be older and a lot more stable and focused."

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