It was about 8 a.m. Tuesday in Kandahar, Afghanistan when Darrel Young scored his first and only NFL touchdown. Back in Landover, Md., on that rainy Monday night last November, the reaction among Washington Redskins fans inside FedEx Field was subdued. Their team was being bludgeoned by the Philadelphia Eagles, and this hardly was any consolation.
But in Sgt. 1st Class David Young’s tent on Forward Operating Base Walton, the tent with the satellite TV hookup, the crowd went nuts.
“They were like, ‘Your brother scored! Your brother scored!’” Sgt. Young recalled Saturday. “I was like, ‘My brother?’ They showed the instant replay, and I was like, ‘Oh my God! My brother scored!’ “
His pride was strong enough that day to travel the 7,000 miles back home. Sgt. Young’s little brother, who had been cut by the Redskins the previous summer, had achieved one of his highest goals.
Now fast forward to training camp at Redskins Park on Saturday afternoon. Sgt. Young’s eyes widened as Darrel strolled into one of the VIP tents after practice. Because Sgt. Young recently returned from a year in Afghanistan, this was the first time he had seen in person Darrel wearing a Redskins uniform.
“It’s a humbling experience to see somebody who took a dream and made it reality,” he said. “I was talking to a few of the fans today. I told them, ‘That’s my brother.’ “
Sgt. Young, 31, might have been the most appreciated supporter at Redskins Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday. Darrel (pronounced duh-RELL) turned first to him after being released during final cuts in 2009. He needed guidance and reassurance, so he drove to Fort Bragg, N.C., where his older brother still lives.
“He told me some things: It’s football; things happen; it’s a business,” Darrel recalled. “He told me to wait for my opportunity, and my opportunity came last year.”
Darrel, 24, first tried to make the team as a linebacker. Coach Mike Shanahan’s staff, however, converted him to fullback in March 2010. That gave the undrafted free agent from Villanova enough of a foothold to make the final roster.
Sgt. Young called from Afghanistan after final cuts last September to congratulate his little brother. And then he had to figure out how the heck to watch 16 Redskins games from a war zone across the world.
“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Sgt. Young said. “I called my dad and said, ‘Send me my TV.’ I bought the cable box. Then I went into the local economy and bought a satellite.”
Some of the locals showed him how to lock the signal. He used the Armed Forces Network coming from Europe. Before the Monday night game against Philadelphia, he and some other troops worked through a sandstorm to establish the signal.
Sgt. Young ran the food service facility for the entire camp, so he already was one of the more popular people among the Army’s 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. You can imagine how his status skyrocketed once he started showing college and pro football games on his TV. His quarters became known as “The Football Tent.”
Troops would gather to watch their favorite teams. World Cup soccer and golf tournaments also were major attractions, but nothing compared to Redskins games.
“It was fun having all the soldiers out there watching, and they’re wondering why you’re cheering so hard,” said Sgt. Young’s wife, Centoria, who is a Sgt. 1st Class. She recently was deployed with her husband at FOB Walton, collecting human intelligence.
“It’s just amazing,” she said. “We’re so proud of Darrel because he had a dream and he kept his mind set on it. He didn’t give up for anything, no matter what came at him. For us, that’s inspiring.”
The feeling is mutual. Darrel is practicing with the first-string offense this training camp, and he stays hungry by remembering his brother’s sacrifice and the advice from two summers ago.
“He’s always been a big inspiration in my life,” Darrel said. “For him to go over there and do what he did for the country and to go out every day and not know what’s going to happen, it just makes me look at life a little different. To listen to the stories that he tells and stuff like that, this right here is fun, but over there is real-life situations.”
Outside the VIP tent Saturday, Darrel was talking to his older brother when a man and his daughter approached. The man asked for an autograph and then a picture.
Sgt. Young volunteered to take the photo while little brother posed with the fans. Darrel lifted up the little girl, and there were smiles all around.
“He’s still my younger brother,” Sgt. Young said, “but he’s a superstar now.”