DALLAS — When staring pressure directly in the face, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young chose to smile.
He was in the shotgun, faced with a fourth-and-seven in the Iron Bowl. Forty-three seconds remained in regulation and Alabama needed a touchdown to tie the game.
Before he took the snap, instead of looking flustered or hurried, Young grinned.
Then he threw a first-down pass to tight end Jahleel Billingsley on a touchdown drive that forced overtime and later became Young’s Heisman Trophy moment.
Being calm is nothing new for Young. That’s been his default from the moment he stepped onto the podium and addressed reporters for the first time at the beginning of preseason practices. The same can be said of when he’s chased by SEC defenders, talks to his teammates or gives a Heisman acceptance speech.
Don’t let that even-keeled demeanor fool you, though.
“Oftentimes, his calmness and being calm was mistaken for apathy and being apathetic and not really caring and not having any fire in his leadership because he didn’t yell and scream and have this fire,” said Craig Young, his dad. “What people don’t understand is this dude is so competitive. And he hates losing.”
So much so that he seldom loses. Young has lost only once during his first season as a collegiate starter and three times over two seasons in high school as Mater Dei’s quarterback in Santa Ana, Calif.
That’s four losses over four seasons of football.
That disdain for losing and competitiveness hidden inside have propelled Young and Alabama to the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide is set to face No. 4 Cincinnati at 2:30 p.m. CT on Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in the Cotton Bowl.
To understand where Young’s competitiveness began, look no further than his family’s home. Board games and card games served as a prime source of competition for the Young family. So, too, did miniature golf and bowling.
“Bryce is better at everything,” said Julie Young, his mom. “It’s like one of those things where you just sit there and go, ‘Really? Really?’”
“It’s so annoying,” Craig added. “So annoying.”
Their son wins about 90 percent of the time. The Youngs especially remember the one time he lost in bowling.
“He was mad,” Craig said. “He didn’t even want to talk in the car.”
His parents know Young needs his space when he experiences rare losses. Such was the case when Texas A&M upset Alabama 41-38 in October.
Julie and Craig didn’t try to talk to him right away.
“He’s going to go through his own process,” Craig said. “He’s going to figure it out. He’s going to handle it his own way. He doesn’t want a bunch of hugs and attaboys and all that stuff.”
Instead, his parents tell him they love him, text him and send him scripture. He always responds back with “I love you.” Then he’s good to talk, usually the next day.
“(People) see the calm, but they don’t see that look in his eye when he loses,” Craig said. “It’s fury.”
The fury that resulted from the Texas A&M loss turned into 23 touchdowns and one interception over the seven games since. That included throwing three touchdowns and rushing for one against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs had given up only nine touchdowns all season.
“I push myself to make sure to understand everything is a competition,” Young said. “It’s about pushing yourself to be the best you can be. Whether it’s 100,000 people in stands, it’s on TV or it’s just you in a room by yourself watching film, you have to be competitive.”
The same goes for bowling, apparently.
Even though he often bests his parents on the lanes, he doesn’t always dominate. Not right away. Sometimes, he lets them believe they have a chance.
“(We think) it’s going to be a battle,” Craig said. “Then we’re about to win, feel good and this dude at like the last …”
Craig didn’t finish the sentence, but the Auburn Tigers could have done it for him.
They know the feeling all too well.