It’s not often that the Heisman Trophy winner returns to college football. It’s even more rare that the Heisman Trophy winner is required to come back because they’re not old enough to be eligible for the NFL Draft. As such, Bryce Young is a rarity in the sport, as the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner won the award following a productive sophomore campaign for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
He’s won a ton of games, tends to put up huge numbers in Alabama’s high-scoring offense, and thanks to the recent changes to NCAA rules that allow athletes to get compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness, has gotten the opportunity to become a spokesperson for Dr. Pepper. Recently, we got the chance to sit down with Young to discuss his recent meeting with the folks who will compete in the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway at conference championship games this year, being an athlete in the NIL era, how things are going in his second year as a starter, and much more.
What do you have going on with Dr. Pepper?
I’m excited to be a part of this, the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway. This campaign is something I’ve seen growing up, my entire life. So, being able to be a part of it — I’ve met the finalists, talk to the contestants, and just being able to meet them and talk to them and tell me their stories, it’s a great opportunity for me. So, I’m super excited.
We’re in the NIL era, which means this is a new thing to do for college athletes. What’s been the most fun part about getting to work with Dr. Pepper?
It’s the people that I’ve worked with, and Dr. Pepper as a whole, it’s a brand that we all know, and we’re all familiar with. But everyone that I’ve worked with from Dr. Pepper has been so personable, very understanding, they’ve been really easy to work with. So, with a brand like Dr. Pepper, obviously a huge name, something that everyone knows, they have every right to be big, and to be difficult, and to be tough. But I’ve had an amazing experience on working with them, whether it’s on set shooting commercials, being here — whether it’s on Zoom meeting people or being able to meet some contestants that they were able to pick out. I really just think it’s the people in the organization that have made this the most enjoyable for me.
I’m glad you mentioned the commercials, because the commercials are hilarious. And obviously, the hope when you’re a kid is that football brings you the success you had in high school, the success you’ve had at Bama, that you’re lifting trophies for the next 15, 20 years of your life. But were you watching commercials with athletes as a kid and going, “Man, it’d be really cool if football can have me doing some of those someday?”
I think subconsciously, I was always watching athletes in advertisements, on commercials, wherever it may be. And I always thought it was really cool. But I never even really put two and two together until I was actually being approached for it. It was always something that was really cool, but I never really thought of it as like, “Oh, that’s gonna be me, that’s my goal.” It felt so, especially when I was a recruit, so far fetched, it’s so far away. It wasn’t even something that I really looked at, it was something that I thought was really cool. And then when NIL came along, obviously the prospect of it was super intriguing, was cool to hear about. And then hearing I would actually be a part of it, and filming it, and watching it, that’s a whole, whole different experience.
You’re part of the first generation of college football players who’s learning what it’s like to be a student-athlete in this era. What have you learned about managing the off-field expectations and the time commitment that comes with being a student athlete right now?
I think it’s all about time management, and having priorities and having a hierarchy. For me, with NIL, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and I’ve been able to work with great people. It’s been a lot of opportunities that have really been life changing for myself, my family.
But at the end of the day, being a student-athlete comes first, making sure that I’m taking care of things academically, and then making sure that I’m taking care of things on the field. So for me, I feel like making sure that I know that hierarchy, I have that order, and knowing what my priorities are, I think that’s been what’s made it the easiest for me. It’s allowed me to kind of traverse everything that’s been going on, because this is very new territory, something that obviously is new to me, but new to everyone. But for me, what I found was making sure that I have priorities, I have the hierarchy, and make sure that the main thing really remains being the main thing.
And any time I’ve talked to NFL guys from Bama, the one thing that they always say is the Bama has the best people to help you with everything, so I imagine that’s the case here.
Yeah, 100 percent. We have a lot of people here that are super supportive, super helpful. They want us to obviously represent the university well, but they want us to go out and have as much success and do as much as we want to, and they support us with that. And you know, knowing that the coaches have our back, administrators, everyone involved, knowing that they support us and want us to be successful — not just on the field and with the university, but in our personal endeavors — having that support system really means a lot.
Let’s talk a little bit of football. What are your general thoughts on the season so far?
We’re just taking one day at a time, one game at a time. There’s been ups, there’s been downs, but we really feel like we’re pushing to be stronger. Right now, everything that happened in the past, it’s just stuff to learn from. So, we’re focused on the future, and we’re going to attack it one day at a time.
Whenever I talk to guys — NFL, NBA, any sport — they always talk about how that first season is learning, and that second season, you’re just so much more comfortable and in command of things. What’s been the biggest difference between first year starter Bryce Young and second year starter Bryce Young?
I agree, I feel like just that comfort, and I think having been in scenarios and circumstances before, not being my first time, obviously you feel more comfortable. I think the biggest thing is just stepping up as a leader, kind of having that respect from my teammates and coaches and using that to do what’s best for the team and leading. I feel like those have been the biggest differences. You prepare with practice, mental reps, and when you’re playing and getting that experience, it was invaluable. So having of more that under my belt, that definitely helped me be more comfortable.
Have you noticed that you’re leading, that you’re being more of a teacher to younger teammates, you’re more of a go-between for coach Saban and coach O’Brien and the rest of the guys on the offense?
Yeah, 100 percent. Me being leader is something I take pride in, my leadership and trying to make sure that I’m getting best out of each other. So again, just having more experience, being more comfortable in situations, and being able to have that respect from my teammates and coaches, that means a lot and that pushes me to be a better leader every day. Like you said, I feel like it’s my job to bring others along, to make sure, first and foremost, that I’m doing the right thing, that I’m holding myself to the same standard, and then to do the same with with others and to make sure that I’m bringing everyone along. So, I definitely feel like that’s a place that I’ve gone this year.
You’re the rare Heisman Trophy winner who had to come back to school. Not a lot of guys have to deal with that and the extremely high expectations, the pressure, all that. Are you someone who tries to tune out all that noise? You try to tune out those expectations? Are you someone who goes, “I hear that and I’m gonna let that motivate me, and it’s pushing me to be better”?
For me, I kind of tune stuff out. I understand everyone’s gonna have opinions and expectations, but those are things I can’t control — what people think, how people feel, that is out of my control. I really try to live up to the expectations and standards that I set for myself, and that we set for us as a team, in this building at school. So, that’s really who I work for, what I look for as far as I’m gonna try and be the best version of myself.
I’m grateful for everyone’s opinion, whether it be positive or negative, I feel like everyone’s entitled to that opinion. Everyone can feel, good or bad, however they like, but it’s something I can’t control, and I my best to focus on what I can and to control what I can control. I set expectations and standards for myself, and I live up to those and I work to live up to those and to the standards and expectations that we set as a team.
Have you noticed that guys on opposing teams have brought that little extra something this year now that they know they’re going up against the Heisman Trophy winner? Or is it just one of those things where it’s Bama, you’re getting everybody shot every single game, and you’ve been dealing with that for a year and a half now?
I think it more so is just because of it being Bama, us being who we are. I think everyone on the team, throughout recruiting, we all understand that we all have a target on our backs. And that’s why we all chose to be here, we like everyone’s best shot. But we understand that we have to try to be consistent with ours, week in and week out. So, I think it more so just speaks to coach Saban, the legacy that he has and the program that is here at the University of Alabama more so than anything.
How do you manage the pressure and the stress and the expectations that come from everything? Are you someone who, when you leave the football field, you’re putting everything away and you’re focusing on being with friends, video games, whatever? Are you someone who, when you get away, that’s more time to focus on football?
First and foremost, I enjoy it, I enjoy playing, I enjoy being a part of the team, I enjoy the little intricacies about preparing for games. I’ve never felt like a job, it never feels like a chore. So, first and foremost, I enjoy it. It’s not like I’m at the facility and I’m waiting until I get home, or dreading the next day. I enjoy the process, so that definitely makes a lot easier.
But you know, at times, I do feel like it’s important to detach when I’m going home. Watching YouTube, or listening music, nothing too big. I do try to detach just so I can be fresher and more into it when I am in the building throughout the long days that we have. But I enjoy it again, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I enjoy every day, I enjoy the process, that’s really what drives me the most.
And last question, is Tua the NFL MVP?
That’s a great question. I feel like he definitely has to be in that conversation, he’s been playing amazing, obviously, someone that I’ve looked up to, coming here, I learned a lot from. So, I have a huge amount of respect for him. But yeah, I definitely feel like he’s on track for that. I definitely feel like so far, he’s working for it and earned it, so I’m excited to watch him continue to have success and to keep moving on.