In a sport that has long prided itself for producing alpha males, Towson running back Kobe Young was a throwback to a different era.
Those who know Young well said he was renowned for a farewell that resonated with the recipient.
“The biggest thing for me was, every time you would leave him, he would give you a handshake and say, ‘I love you,’” said defensive tackle Vinnie Shaffer, a Middle River resident and Archbishop Curley graduate who finished his redshirt senior season with the Tigers in the fall. “He did that from Day One. He was like a brother. I loved him for that. In football, you kind of have that men-are-men mentality and that there are no emotions. Not with Kobe. Kobe always made sure you left the room smiling.”
Shaffer and many of his current and former teammates flooded social media with their fondest memories of Young, a redshirt senior who died at 23 years old this weekend at his family’s home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A cause of death was not immediately known.
Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said he remembered Young’s optimism.
“The first thing that anybody is going to say is his smile,” he said. “He just lit up a room. He lit you up. It was really amazing. There are great smiles in the history of the world, but not every great smile affects somebody. His did — every day.”
Safety Robert Topps III, who will be a redshirt senior this fall, said Young’s positivity was infectious.
“Kobe was just one of those guys where if you saw Kobe, he would put a smile on your face,” he said. “He was just one of those guys that would always greet you. He was a good guy. If you saw Kobe, you would smile because he always had a smile on his face. He was a real, positive guy.”
Despite playing running back, Young easily blended in with his teammates on both sides of the ball. Shaffer said Young was welcomed by offensive and defensive players alike.
“The defense usually kind of stays to their side, but for Kobe, it didn’t matter,” he said. “Especially this last camp in the fall, I always remember that all the linemen would play Super Smash Bros., and Kobe could just fit in with anybody. He was always with the linemen playing Super Smash Bros. and having a good time. It didn’t matter what position group you were in. He was always willing to meet new people, hang out and be friends with everybody.”
Ambrose recalled watching Young navigate the locker room, engaging anyone and everyone in conversation.
“From the guys who knew him for a minute and had been here for just a semester to the oldheads that have been here the whole time, he cared about everybody,” Ambrose said.
Young, a 6-foot, 190-pound tailback, ranked second on Towson in 2017 in rushing with 337 yards and was tied for the team lead in touchdown runs with two. The following season, he ranked second among the team’s running backs in rushing at 455 yards and third in touchdowns with three.
In 2019, Young compiled 29 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards in three games before an ankle injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Last fall, he appeared in only three games, gaining 41 rushing yards and one touchdown and catching one pass for 2 yards.
Shaffer said even injuries didn’t discourage Young.
“I’d always joke around when he wasn’t practicing, ‘Man, are you taking your Senior Days?’” he said. “But even being hurt, he would always laugh and say, ‘You know I don’t take them.’ Even though he was injured, he always had a presence about himself. Usually when you’re hurt, you can’t play, and you’re sad. That was never him. There was never a frown on his face.”
Ambrose said Young was on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor’s in health care management and a minor in business administration. He said he found out about Young’s death from his academic advisor, who was in daily contact with Young’s mother LaTonya Young.
Ambrose organized an online meeting with the team on Saturday afternoon and informed the players of Young’s death.
“When I heard it was Kobe, he was pretty much the last person I would have thought because Kobe always kept a smile on his face,” Topps said. “No matter what, Kobe was always smiling, cracking jokes. So when you heard that Kobe died, you kind of thought it was a joke.”
Ambrose said there have been “loose discussions” about paying tribute to Young during the upcoming season. He said his heart aches for Young’s mother.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been associated with,” he said. “As a parent, we’re not supposed to bury our kids. My heart just breaks for his mom. It’s a weight, it’s hard, we miss him. But like any other weight, when somebody is sharing in the load with you, it’s a little bit easier. So I guess we’ll be a little righter, pick each other a little bit more, and be better teammates.”
Service arrangements were not immediately available.