Defender? Runner? Receiver? QB? Versatile athlete does it all as Harlem chases history
MACHESNEY PARK — DeAndre Young’s recruiting profile on deepdishfootball.com doesn’t list a position. It simply lists him as 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Class of 2023, ATHLETE.
That’s what happens when you play running back, receiver, cornerback, quarterback and sometimes return kicks for Harlem.
Growing up, he also played defensive lineman, safety and middle linebacker. Every single position on the football field except offensive line and tight end.
Harlem has a lot of versatile players. Star defensive linemen Keshawn Harrington-McKinney and Logan Lawson helped Harlem develop the league’s best running game by also becoming blocking H-backs at midseason. Jahmani Muhammad, the league’s leading rusher, also plays cornerback when needed. Middle linebacker Ben Larsen gets used at cornerback on occasion.
“We cross-train every position on defense,” Harlem coach Bob Moynihan said.
But no one plays better at more positions than DeAndre Young. Maybe no one ever has in the NIC-10. Young even likes to tell Harrington-McKinney that he can play defensive tackle better than Harlem’s 6-2, 310-pound star.
“I do it all the time with Keshawn,” Young said. “He knows I am messing around. I know he’s a big dude. He takes on triple teams. I know I can’t do that.”
Harrington-McKinney just looks bemused.
“I love DeAndre,” he said with a laugh. “Me and him joke around a lot.”
Harrington-McKinney pauses. “Better defensive linemen than me? That’s funny,” he said, shaking his head and chuckling again.
But nobody laughs late in the season when Young morphs from being the NIC-10’s most dangerous receiver into a Justin Fields/Lamar Jackson-like running quarterback.
Young was named first-team all-conference at wide receiver as a junior even though he only caught nine passes for 200 yards. That’s where he played most of the year. He had zero rushing attempts through five games of his junior season, but he finished with 50 carries for 405 yards, spear-heading Harlem’s end-of-season run. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against Boylan that year. He had 197 yards rushing in back-to-back wins over Boylan and Belvidere North.
So this year, Moynihan promised, “He's dynamic. He’ll be everywhere.”
He has been, and Harlem (8-3) is not only back in the playoffs after another slow start, but in the third round for the first time in school history, hosting Crystal Lake Prairie Ridge (10-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Huskies have gotten here with a team effort. Harrington-McKinney is the best defensive lineman in the league. Muhammad leads the NIC-10 in rushing. But no Huskie is more important than Young.
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Still, it’s jarring to see such a dangerous receiver — he caught four passes for 184 yards in a Week 2 loss to Hononegah — now seldom even running a pass route. He is Harlem’s man in the wildcat, keeping the ball or handing it off to Muhammad. He ran nine times for 157 yards and caught a 38-yard TD on Harlem’s only pass completion to edge undefeated Belvidere North 21-17 in Week 8. In the first week of the playoffs, he held Adam Muench to three catches and no TDs after he came in with 977 yards and 26 TDs in a 35-21 win over Chicago Amundsen. And last week he ran 13 times for 99 yards in a 24-20 win over Grayslake North.
“It’s amazing just watching him go around the field and just fly around. On offense and defense,” Harrington-McKinney said.
Harlem lost three of its top four receivers to injury and has changed by necessity into a two-option run team. Either Young (633 yards, 7.9 yards per carry) is going to run. Or Muhammad (1,459 yards, 6.3 average) will run.
“We have Jahmani, who is really small and can fit through holes, and we have DeAndre, who can just fly, fly through them,” Harrington-McKinney said. “He’s really shifty. And he knows how to break tackles and how to lower his shoulder and get extra yards.”
A Grayslake North coach was frustrated that his team couldn’t stop “the simplest offense in football” last week. But that offense is simply very hard to stop with a couple of extra huge blockers in McKinney-Harrington and Lawson and two explosive choices to run the ball in Muhammad and Young.
“I just read the (defensive) end,” Young said. “If he goes with Jahmani, I keep it. If he stays with me, I give it to Jahmani.
“It’s really hard to stop. We have Jahmani, who led the league in rushing, going one way and if I pull it I can go the other way. They are focused on one player, but the other player can have it at any time.”
Young (29 catches for 504 yards) was leading the NIC-10 in receiving until he moved into the backfield. He still ranks third, but he would rather run that catch anyway.
“I can catch pretty good, but I feel I run the ball the best,” he said. “But I like defense the most. I like hitting people.”
He will get a chance to do plenty of that Saturday night. Prairie Ridge quarterback Tyler Vasey averages 283 yards rushing and needs just 212 more to set the state single-season record. The Wolves ran for nearly 400 yards in a 43-42 loss at Harlem two years ago.
“They are going to be very difficult to stop scoring,” Moynihan said. “It’s going to be a wild one, I can tell you that. We’re going to have to do some things.”
But maybe the Wolves won’t be able to stop Harlem, either. They couldn’t two years ago. And they allowed 41, 49 and 55 points in three straight games before holding Maple Park Kaneland to 22 last week.
And if Young and Muhammad run wild in the wildcat, maybe they can keep the ball away a little from Vasey and the Wolves. That’s what happened two years ago as Harlem ran out the clock on the final drive and scored with nine seconds left to win.
“It’s going to be a historic night for them,” Moynihan said. “The kids came up to me on the way to the weight room and they are saying. ‘Harlem has never had a team that’s practiced this week. We’re the first group.’
“We talked about that Saturday night. ‘Do you want your legacy to be here or do you want it to continue and make it tougher for everyone else to reach your goals?’ They want to make it tougher. The difference between this team and teams I’ve coached in the past is this team hopes next year’s team goes undefeated and does even better.”
Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and three years covering the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.