Next Thursday, Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young will hear his name called early during the 2020 NFL Draft.
But long before he was a standout football player considered by many to be a generational talent at his position, Young was one of the many star athletes at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. The Stags have one of the best high school athletic programs in the country with alumni going on to have success at both the collegiate and professional level. There's no question his time at DeMatha helped Young become the player and person he is today.
But at DeMatha, Young became close friends with someone who has experienced many of the things he is currently going through right now as a top draft prospect. That someone would be current Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz.
Just a few years ago, Fultz was in a similar position that Young is currently in. As Young makes the transition from college to a professional athlete, Fultz believes his past experiences can help him along the way.
"We talk a lot. We text almost every day," Fultz told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay.
Growing up together
Fultz and Young were classmates for three years at DeMatha, but their relationship started even earlier than that. Fultz explained that their parents knew each other and he had met Young before they were high school friends.
Young is a year younger than Fultz. The Magic guard was a sophomore when Young arrived at DeMatha. Although Young went to the private school mainly for football, he became good friends with Fultz when he tried out for the basketball team as a freshman.
"He was an undersized five [center]," Fultz said of Young's basketball game. "He's strong, man. He could dribble a little bit, he could shoot a little bit. He wasn't down low bruising, but he was definitely banging down there. He could guard the bigger players, so everybody would like him."
Chase Young ‘17 (right, pic here w Markelle Fultz ‘16) has officially declared for the NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/8axDfLghqa— DeMathaHighSchool (@DeMathaCatholic) January 3, 2020
While Young starred on the football field, it was his time playing alongside Fultz on the basketball court that allowed the two to become close friends.
"Our bond got really strong at high school," Fultz said. "I feel like that was where it got the strongest, because we've seen each other a lot."
Speaking it into existence
Although it sounded like Fultz enjoyed sharing the court with Young, it was clear that while Fultz's future was in basketball, where the Ohio State pass rusher excelled the most was on the gridiron. Coming out of high school in 2016, Fultz was considered a five-star and top-10 prospect by prospect every major recruiting service. A year later, the same was for Young.
At the college level, their success continued. Fultz played just one year at the University of Washington but garnered National Player of the Year recognition despite his team failing to live up to expectations. The 76ers saw plenty of potential in the then-19-year-old and took him first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Three years later, Young is in a similar scenario as his former high school teammate. The pass rusher is widely considered the top prospect in this year's draft, and would likely be the No. 1 pick if the Cincinnati Bengals didn't need a quarterback. He's expected to land with his hometown Washington Redskins, who hold the second overall selection.
"It's actually crazy because if you ask him, we actually talked about this when we were in high school," Fultz said. "We used to talk trash to each other. I used to tell him, 'I'm going to be the No. 1 pick.' He used to tell me how he was going to be the No. 1 pick, top pick. So we actually spoke this into existence."
Added Fultz: "You know, both being humble, of course. But between me and him, we used to talk about being the best at what we do. To see it happening now, it's been almost crazy, you know, that we were able to say something and actually come true. So it's a unique situation, but at the same time, we both push each other to be great."
Learning from his mistakes
It hasn't been an easy journey for Fultz since he entered the NBA, however. During the summer he was drafted, he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him all but 14 games his rookie season. When Fultz was on the court, he just didn't look like his normal self. His shoulder injury significantly impacted his shooting form, and the guard developed a significant hitch in his jump-shot.
The shoulder pain would not go away, and Fultz missed the majority of his sophomore NBA season due to the injury, too. For the former No. 1 overall pick, the word "bust" was constantly being thrown around his name. After two relatively unsuccessful seasons with the Sixers, Philadelphia shipped him to Orlando last summer. The fresh start has been extremely beneficial for the guard. He's since carved out a solid niche for himself and shown signs that he could potentially be the player many thought he could be.
For any adversity Young may experience during the early stages of his NFL career, Fultz believes he can be a resource. The guard thinks that his past experiences can help Young
"For me, on the court and off, everybody knows, I've been through tough times," Fultz said. "My first two years in the league, going through injuries. I have a mentality and a way to get around certain things because I've been through them before.
"I feel like he's smart enough and we've been through this before, where he can learn from my mistakes and I can learn from his mistakes," Fultz said. "He doesn't have to make the same mistake I made. I think he knows that I'm somebody who's been through a lot and came out the other side and still fighting right now. He has somebody who's been through something so he can always reach out."
Fultz did not point to any specific mistakes that he may have made. Rather, Fultz feels that Young can pick up on little things that the guard has learned throughout his career in order to not fall into some of the same tendencies he may have as a rookie or second-year player in the NBA.
"Just things about taking stuff into your own hands, just becoming a man just listening to everything," Fultz said on advice he would give Young. "Like little stuff like when you're going into meetings or how to prepare, how to work out. Just having the mentality to wake up early and eat the right way, just try to help them eat the right way now because it's going to be helpful. Just little stuff like that."
Coming back home
Barring something unforeseen, the expected will become the reality next Thursday when the Redskins select Young with the No. 2 overall pick. Should that happen, Young will experience something that Fultz has not: being drafted by your hometown team.
Fultz explained that by nature, there are several distractions by being a high draft pick. For a 21-year-old kid, it can be a lot to handle. The guard admitted as such when he was the top pick at age 19.
"I think that right now, he's extremely excited," Fultz said on the possibility of Young playing for his hometown team. "But it's definitely going to be tough because you're going home, you're gonna have a lot of people around and you got a lot of people doing certain things."
But Fultz believes that due to Young's already advanced maturity and mindset, he'll be just fine.
"I believe he has the right people around him," Fultz said. "I think he's going to handle it fine. He's mature enough and has the right mindset."
Young also has something that Fultz didn't have when he was getting drafted: A close friend who has been through a similar process before. That's what Young has in Fultz, and the Magic guard plans to be there for Young for any questions or struggles he may face.
"You're gonna have to learn things. I think that's when you have the right people around you, they step in and help you out with that situation," Fultz said. I feel like that's something that I'm here for you know, just to let them know that even though you're home, you're still at work. This is a business now, and a lot that comes with it."
Staying in touch
Fultz understands that Young's going through a significant change in his life right now. There are going to be a lot of people in his ear, and there's going to be a lot of different things thrown at the pass rusher that he's going to need to handle.
While the next few months will likely be hectic for Young, Fultz does not want his relationship and communication with the pass rusher to take a hit as a result.
"I want to make sure that we don't lose contact and we make sure we talk to each other because I want to be able to help him," Fultz said. "I feel like he can help me, too. He's gonna go through things and I'm gonna be able to talk to him and he's gonna help me so I think it's something that we can just be great friends, brothers and push each other."
Fultz grew up a Redskins fan, and now one of his close friends will likely be the new face of their defense. As long as it doesn't interfere with his own schedule, the Magic guard plans to get to a Redskins game to cheer on his high school teammate.
"Oh, you're going to see me rocking Chase's jersey, whether I'm at FedEx [Field] or not," he said. "But any chance I get to make it out to a game, I'm going to be there to support him."
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