By Chris Emma–
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Always one for a laugh, Bears edge rusher Willie Young got emotional on Saturday.
During his seven seasons in the NFL, Young has used his status as a motivating factor. He was a seventh-round pick who was hardly thought of coming from North Carolina State. His place in the league had to be earned.
Yet, with each expectation set, Young has exceeded. He has earned his success in the NFL, which late Friday night brought a new two-year contract extension that keeps him in Chicago through 2018. Young’s 2016 season was to be the final year of a contract offered by Phil Emery in 2014.
On Saturday, Young showed rare emotion when reflecting on how far he has come.
“I was always counted out,” Young said. “There was only a handful of people that believed in me.”
The Bears are one who believe in Young. General manager Ryan Pace offered the first contract extension of his young tenure, with a move that would’ve been surprising at many times over the past year due to circumstances of change.
Young, 30, came to Chicago during to play the role of 4-3 defensive end during the Emery regime. Last season, he was recovering from a torn Achillies when the Bears asked him to be a 3-4 outside linebacker, which requires dropping into coverage in addition to rushing the passer.
This past October, Young reportedly asked for a trade while unhappy with his role. Teammate Jared Allen had just been moved days earlier after similarly struggling. However, Young stuck with the difficult situation. He embraced the grueling recovery from the injury and worked hard at becoming an outside linebacker.
Young wanted to set an example for his sons, ages 10 and 4.
“I got two little boys that look up to me,” Young said. “I refuse to let the down.”
Pace realized midway through the 2015 season that Young provided value to Vic Fangio’s defense at outside linebacker. He began to consider the contract extension.
Young finished the season second on the Bears in sacks with 6.5, including 5.5 in a five-game stretch from Weeks 11-15. Toward the end of the year, Young had fully recovered from the Achillies injury and hit his stride as an outside linebacker.
Because of the negotiations running late, Young missed curfew Friday night. Pace said that he was excused.
Pace and coach John Fox were overjoyed for Young to have earned the new deal. He embraced the challenging situation of last season and committed himself to growth. They were happy to reward that.
“We’re really proud to have him as a Chicago Bear for an extended period of time,” Fox said.
Added Pace: “It feels good to reward somebody who has worked as hard as he’s worked.”
It was during the spring — shortly after the Bears drafted another outside linebacker, Leonard Floyd — when Young expressed his hopes of staying in Chicago. It came as a surprise at the time.
Saturday was Young’s day. Teammates around training camp were quick to congratulate him. After all, they had seen him struggle through the rehab and return to prove his place.
Doubters of Young along the way would be in disbelief with how far he’s come. The Bears were thrilled to reward it.
“I’d like to give a big thanks to the Bears for believing in me without a doubt,” Young said. “I’m just super excited right now.”