Landon Young is preparing for his first National Football League season but odds are no coach will be harder on him than what Dennis Johnson, a former all-SEC defensive end at Kentucky, was when he played at Jessie Clark Middle School in Lexington.
“I was so hard on him the sixth and seventh grade years,”Johnson said. “His dad came in one day and said we need to talk. He said, ‘Coach you are being so hard on him.’ I was like, ‘Mr. Young, please just trust me,’ and he did.
“We had a good relationship. I was telling him your son is going to be a pro. He was okay with that and we shook hands. But I was so hard on them, just crazy hard.”
Young just says Johnson “was up there” among the toughest coaches he’s had at any level.
“But he was tough on me in a good way. It was not like he demoralized me and made me feel less of a man. He just knew what I was capable of and tried to push me,” Young said.
“That is such a critical age. It’s either crack or you prevail, especially with the group of kids we had. We had an A-1 group of kids and a bunch ended up playing college ball. We needed to be pushed.”
Young remembers one middle school game where it was so hot he was seeing “triple” and had to come out of the game. It was the same with Russ Yeast, the son of former UK star receiver Craig Yeast, and Johnson’s oldest son.
Johnson remembers that game, too.
“I gave them new black jerseys, which was stupid as a coach, and we sat there two hours waiting for the game,” Johnson said. “Landon goes out and the trainer says he is done. Next thing I know my son is out, then Craig’s son is out.
“We end up getting beat and I am upset. The next day I call them in my office and I am going off. ‘What should I do, give you a cheeseburger on the sideline?’ I blew up. I should have never done that.”
There was another game where Johnson took all the eighth-graders out — Young was a seventh-grader but was a starter — because the team was not playing well.
“There was no reason at halftime we should have not been up 50. We were just sort of messing around and playing like crap, so he took us out and sat us over there,” Young said. “We had what we call our ‘ice cream with sprinkles on top’ talk.
“Sure enough we sat out the rest of half and just watched sixth graders get pulverized and he was like ‘you better score or you will never play another snap for me again’ when the second half started. We went out there and started blowing them out. Those were the kind of tough lessons he taught us and helped make me the player I am today.”
Johnson is now the head coach at Woodford County. He coached Young and Jedrick Wills, who went to Alabama and was a 2020 first-round NFL draft pick, both at Lafayette when he was an assistant at Lafayette and had Drake Jackson, another UK lineman picked in the 2021 NFL draft, at Woodford County.
“You just knew they were all going to be great players,” Johnson said. “I was hard on all of them but it was because I knew what they could do and just how great they could all be.”