CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The day after he was selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young walked into the locker room at Bank of America Stadium and struggled to hold back his emotions as he looked at his locker for the first time.
He was in the league.
With his parents Craig and Julie by his side, Young glanced up at the name plate hanging above the locker. He looked over at the silver helmet with the Panthers logo and briefly touched the pristine game jersey resting neatly on a hanger.
Julie Young looked fondly at her son, smiled and said, “You did this."
“We did,” she said, before joking, "... but you threw the touchdown passes.”
Young, who'll make his home debut against the New Orleans Saints on “Monday Night Football,” earned a reputation for his humility at Alabama and it hasn't taken long for his new Panthers coaches and teammates to realize it wasn't an act.
Panthers wide receiver Adam Thielen has been in the NFL for the past decade, and he’s seen a lot of players come and go.
He’s not met many like Young.
Thielen said Young is the first to accept blame when a mistake is made on offense — even when it isn't necessarily his fault. He said that type of genuine humility has a way of putting others at ease.
“The way he approaches being a friend and being a teammate, he has that humility about him, which you can really respect,” Thielen said. “It makes you want to play for somebody like that.”
Panthers coach Frank Reich said he noticed that humility right away when the team began pursuing Young before the draft.
“He’s a humble, humble man,” Reich said. “But you also know he's a man. He has a strong and, I mean this in a good way, a stubborn nature to him. That is what it takes sometimes to be great. So he had the blend of confidence and humility that you're looking for.”
That humility shouldn't be misconstrued for Young being soft.
Panthers defensive end Brian Burns said Young "has put quite a stamp on the locker room. He walks around with this kind of ‘humble but I know I’m the (leader)' type of swag. He’s got it, but he’s humble with it.”
Before being selected first overall, Young won the 2021 Heisman Trophy while playing for the Crimson Tide, where he was 23-4 as a starter. But Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst said the 22-year-old QB has the demeanor of an undrafted rookie trying to make his mark.
Hurst said Young “never makes it about himself,” and praised his parents for raising him the right way.
Julie Young worked 25 years as a special education teacher and her husband Craig is a registered therapist. They raised their only child as a Christian and say they tried to teach him a selfless approach to life.
“We've always been about service and doing something greater than yourself, and not focusing on yourself but focusing on others and how you can make the world better,” Craig said. “I think Bryce has internally seen that model, but then he's improved on it. For him it is always about deflecting attention away from yourself and making it always about the team.”
Perhaps the greatest lesson Julie taught her son on humility was one that didn't require words.
She was a standout soccer player growing up and traveled to Australia with an under-16 national team. She went on to play in college at Cal Poly Pomona.
But she never told her son about any of her athletic accomplishments.
“I didn't know this about her for almost my entire childhood," Bryce said. “It took for someone else to tell me. It took for one of her teammates to tell me just how good she was. ... Then when I asked her, she was was like, ‘Oh, I tried my best. I had fun.’ But in reality she was one of the best players in the country."
Bryce said that spoke volumes about his mother's humility — and it rubbed off on him.
"They are some of the most humble and empathetic people I have ever been around," Bryce said of his parents. “That's something that was always in my upbringing and was always a point of emphasis. I think my parents did a great job of leading by example.”
Bryce said that is why it was so important for him to include his parents in that special moment of seeing his locker for the first time.
“It was very touching because we are a close-knit family,” Julie said. “It was very special.”
Added Craig: "Sometimes you’re not sure how you’re impacting them and you’re not sure if they notice the sacrifice you’ve made. As parents we all feel that way. For him in that moment to say, ‘No, no, no, this is a culmination of everything that we’ve done,’ it was heartwarming. It's an emotional IQ that he has and it was very, very touching.”
Said Bryce: “It's not me that got myself here — I had a lot of help. I have a great support system.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban grew to know Young during his three seasons with the Crimson Tide.
He describes him as a “bright guy” and a great preparer for games.
"He’s got a lot of pride in performance," Saban said. “I’m sure he’ll do everything that he can with his coaches to try to get ready to execute and do things the way he needs to do them to have success and for his team to have success. That’s what he always did here, and I’m sure it will be no different there.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.
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Steve Reed, The Associated Press