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This Zero-Star Recruit Spent 18 Months Working Minimum Wage Jobs on His Road to The NFL

“Playing football was always on my mind. I just didn’t know where to start, and I thought it was impossible.”

An illustration of Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Byron Young, who was a zero-star recruit and Dollar General employee before making it to the NFL
Credit-AP/Getty/Joker Mag Illustration

Every morning started the same way. But this one would change his life.

He unlocked the doors, flipped the sign to “OPEN”, and stocked the shelves until customers arrived.

He heard the little bell ring and smiled at the woman who entered.

“Good morning, miss. Let me know if you need any help.”

As she disappeared down the aisle, his gaze drifted to a flyer hanging on the bulletin board. That wasn’t there yesterday, he thought to himself.

As he got closer, the words came into focus.

His heart started beating faster.

Then it hit him: this was it.

The opportunity he spent 18 months waiting for.

Byron Young grew up in Georgetown, South Carolina.

With a population of 9,000, it’s situated in the state’s “Lowcountry” – a coastal region marked by extensive salt marshes, oak trees draped in Spanish moss, and a tight-knit, small-town feel.

“It’s definitely small,” Byron said on Rams Revealed.

“A lot of woods, not much city…so a lot of people kind of forget about us.”

As the youngest of 13 children, he was more sports-oriented than most of his siblings.

“I was always an athlete. I always wanted to play football.”

But like most kids, he needed to convince his parents to sign him up.

So his father made him a bet.

If Bryon could make a half-court shot at the local basketball court, his dad would take him to football practice.

From first through fourth grade, Byron never made a single shot.

“I felt like that was his way of saying he felt like we were too young to play football.”

Eventually, his father relented and Byron got to put on the pads for the first time.

“I always was a hard worker,” Young said. “I knew that my talents could take me somewhere, but I didn’t know where.”

He went to high school at Carvers Bay in Hemingway – an even smaller town than the one he grew up in. There are only 360 students in the entire school.

On the field, the coaches noticed his athleticism right away.

“I was always the fastest player on the team…they loved me on defense. I returned kicks and I was a defensive end.”

In 2016, Young made the All-State team and was named Defensive Player of the Year.

But while he was posting highlights on the field, he wasn’t doing well in the classroom.

A self-described “class clown”, Young was a “non-qualifier”, meaning he didn’t meet the NCAA’s freshman eligibility requirements.

“I had to work my way back to get attention,” he said. “We were [in the] Lowcountry anyway, so we didn’t get a lot of recognition…a lot of schools didn’t really know about us.”

Even if a college scout were to find his way to Carvers Bay, there was a slim chance he’d be able to make Byron an offer.

So after graduation, Young searched for an alternate route. And he found a lifeline in a new prep school in Alabama called Gulf Coast Prep Sports Academy.

If you’ve ever heard of Bishop Sycamore, you know the prep school football scene isn’t exactly trustworthy.

Simply put, it’s a widely unregulated area that leads to a sort of “Wild West” version of what you’d see on Last Chance U.

But Byron didn’t have a choice.

Gulf Coast Prep was his only chance to impress college recruiters after high school.

But after just two games there, the school folded. And just like that, his dream was derailed.

It was time to enter the real world.

“My dad felt like we should see the world without being under your parents’ roof.”

So he moved down to Columbus, Georgia to live with his brother and find a job.

Once again, his options were limited. The reality was that he was a high school graduate with few marketable skills.

He landed his first job at Burger King.

“I was just happy to be there,” Young said. “I loved the job, just because I was working and getting paid…I cherished that type of job.”

His boss was so impressed with his work ethic that he convinced Byron to take a second job at Dollar General. With his positive attitude and way with customers, he thought Byron might have a future in store management.

Byron Young on working at Dollar General: "I was a great employee. But (playing football) was always on my mind. I just didn’t know where to start, and I thought it was impossible."

“It really shaped me into the man I am today,” he told Zach Gelb. “Just teaching me how to stay humble and really work hard.”

After splitting his days between operating the grill at Burger King, and working the register at Dollar General, he accepted a promotion to assistant manager at the dollar store.

“I was a great employee,” Young told Knox News.

“But (playing football) was always on my mind. I just didn’t know where to start, and I thought it was impossible.”

The dream was still there, but reality wasn’t matching up.

But one day – 18 months into his life in the working world – opportunity knocked.

He spotted a flyer on the bulletin board at Dollar General.

Georgia Military College was hosting open tryouts for their football team.

“It was for the next day.”

So Byron picked up the phone, dialed the number, and asked about their requirements. The next day, he made the two-hour drive to the tryout.

“There were like 150 guys there,” he recalled.

“And I was one of the guys that really caught their eye.”

He made the team right there.

Enrolling at Georgia Military College was a no-brainer for him.

“I just wanted more for myself,” he said. “And it was an opportunity where I couldn’t lose. In the end, I’d get a degree if I wasn’t playing football.”

In his first season of organized football in nearly two years, Byron Young made every second count.

“Going into junior college, and me being an older guy, I didn’t take anything for granted. I definitely cherished every moment…I feel like that’s what separated me from other guys.”

He wanted to be on the field at all times. Even if he wasn’t supposed to be.

As one coach said, “In practice we will put scout defense out there and if you don’t watch him, he will run out there and take more reps on the scout team.”

In his first year with the Bulldogs, Byron totaled an impressive 7 sacks in 11 games.

Then, the spring of 2020 rolled around, and we all know what happened next.

JUCO teams canceled the entire season.

Once again, he was out of options.

No matter how positive he tried to be, he couldn’t prevent doubt from creeping in.

“I felt like I was back at square one,” Young said.

“I honestly didn’t know what to do. I thought it was over for me. But my momma told me to keep doing what I was doing, and somebody would be watching.”

The team kept practicing.

But he still had to pay tuition and cover his cost of living, so he returned to work – this time at a Circle K convenience store.

After a day of football practice and online classes, Byron worked the night shift. Sometimes it turned into a double shift that kept him working the register overnight.

With a loaded schedule, he still needed to find his next opportunity. Time was running out.

“I had no choice but to rely on my practice film. We had two scrimmages against other opponents [in 2020]…I made highlights and I posted on Twitter and DM’ed coaches just hoping to get a response back.”

He reached out to every college program he could think of. But for months he heard nothing back.

Then one day in the late fall, he was shocked as replies from coaches trickled in.

One from South Alabama. Another from Old Dominion.

By November, he had offers from half the schools in the SEC.

“You never know if you never try…I bet on myself and it all paid off.”

After a virtual tour of Tennessee’s campus, he fell in love with the program.

“It was perfect for me. We had a lot of guys that kind of were in the same type of situation that I was in. Transferring from another school, a lot of people didn’t believe in them, and they had to fight their way through hard situations…just learning from them and hearing their experiences, I was just feeding off of that.”

He always knew he could play at a Power Five level, and now he was there.

But at his age, he had to make an impact fast. Especially if he wanted a shot at the NFL.

“I knew max I had two years to play in college…I couldn’t leave college at 26 years old, you know, that wouldn’t really look too good…so I just gave everything I had.”

An inspiring quote from Byron Young: "It can feel like you’re not going anywhere, but that’s just how it’s gonna be [sometimes]. When no one’s watching, just put your head down and keep grinding."

Byron packed on nearly 30 pounds in his first year on campus, going from a listed 218 to 245 pounds.

He was hungrier than ever – both literally and figuratively. And it showed on the field.

In 24 games with the Vols, Byron logged 83 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 12.5 sacks.

He was named to the All-SEC First Team in 2022 and capped off his stellar career by helping Tennessee beat #7 Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

At the 2023 NFL Combine, Young ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash – the second-best time of any EDGE in the draft class. He was also top-5 in the 3-cone drill and vertical jump.

Those numbers would’ve satisfied a lot of players. But not Byron.

“I was kind of disappointed with the Combine,” Young admitted. “Preparing for the Combine I was doing really good…I went out there and didn’t perform how I wanted to.”

Before his Pro Day, Byron went back to Georgia to visit his old teammates, coaches, and co-workers.

“I appreciate everyone that helped me along the way…so I went back there, spending time with the coaches and the kids, and just telling them my story and telling them that it can feel like you’re not going anywhere, but that’s just how it’s gonna be [sometimes]. When no one’s watching, just put your head down and keep grinding. And just going back to Dollar General, talking to them, going back to all my old jobs, it really means a lot to me.”

“I’m so grateful. I’m never gonna forget where I came from.”

When day two of the 2023 NFL Draft came, several teams had their sights set on the 25-year-old linebacker from Tennessee.

Byron and his family were gathered in the living room, tuned into the broadcast.

Just one problem: There was another Byron Young on the board.

The two worked out together leading up to the draft.

“When I first met this guy, I knew one day this would happen.”

The Raiders announced their pick at number 70 and his family went crazy. Only to realize they were cheering for the wrong Byron Young.

“My agent texts me and says, ‘Congratulations, you got drafted by the Raiders.’ and then he said, ‘Oh nevermind, they texted the wrong agent.’”

One last roadblock before his dream came true.

Byron only had to wait for 7 more picks for his name to finally get called.

“With the 77th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams select Byron Young – linebacker, Tennessee.”

When it came time to select his jersey number with the Rams, he didn’t hesitate.

He wanted the number zero.

“The zero is basically a testimony to my story. Coming out, I had zero support really (not saying from my family, but like from outsiders and teams)…I had to do everything on my own.”

“For my age and taking two years off, the chances of me even being right here where I am right now is like a zero percent chance…that’s why I wear the number zero…to remind myself of where I came from.”

His coaches call him “Agent Zero”, and the rookie already looks poised to anchor the Rams’ defensive line for the next decade.

His journey is a testament to hard work, patience, and self-belief. But Byron Young will never get complacent.

“I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done so far because I knew I had it in me. I’ve always believed in myself, and that’s the hardest thing to do is to believe in yourself.”

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Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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