At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, William Youngberg is an imposing figure on a high school football field.
The Payson High senior is someone opposing teams can’t help but notice. If it’s not his size they notice, it’s the fact that the defensive end is one of the state’s leading tacklers in Division IV.
“You’ve got to account for him on every play,” said Payson head coach Jake Swartwood. “He sees a lot of double teams and he fights through them. He’s a good anchor at the end position.
“People aren’t going to run at him. They’re going to run away from him for the most part. That makes it easy for us to game plan. Because we can put him out there and assume that they’re going to run away from him.”
He alternated between defensive end and linebacker much of the season. But the coaching staff recently decided that end, where he’s played for years, is where he needs to be.
“He’s been really flexible and moved back to that spot,” Swartwood said. “We think we’ll probably be leaving him there.”
Flexible is the perfect word to describe Youngberg. Not only has he moved around on defense, he also transitioned to a new position on offense in an effort to help the team. He started the season at tight end but has started at right tackle the last six weeks because injuries have decimated the offensive line.
“It’s not glorious to play line,” Swartwood said. “And a guy like Will switching from tight end to tackle shows a huge commitment to the team. This kid is a team player. He’s willing to go anywhere that the team needs him. He’s bought into it and he’s bought into it fully.”
The move has been a big positive for the offense.
“A kid who’s 6-5, 235 and running pretty fast, that’s a great lead blocker,” Swartwood said. “Will’s one of the guys we look for huge blocks from. We call a lot of counters with him pulling and blocking out.”
It wasn’t easy for Swartwood to lose a red zone target like Youngberg with his ability to catch high passes over the heads of shorter defenders. But moving him from tight end was simply something that had to be done.
“He’s able to high point the ball and just come down with it,” the coach said. “And he’s a hell of a lead blocker from a tight end position. So it was pretty tough to move him.
“But, at the same time, it was an easy decision because it was the right thing for the team 100 percent. He’s the largest lineman we have. He’s the largest kid on the team. At that time in the season, our line was suffering and we were not able to block very well against our scout defense.
“Putting him in there is just a huge body and we don’t have to double-team off with our tight end. He can take a guy, push him into the linebacker and get us kind of two blocks from that one position when he decides to be a man and go out there and play like a man child.”
Swartwood said the staff occasionally has to rile him up in an effort to bring out the best performance.
“Sometimes he forgets how big he is and how fast and how strong he is,” the coach said. “And sometimes we tell Will, ‘we’ve got to tick you off before the game. We’ve got to do something to make you mad; something that makes you go out there and just play intense and play aggressive and just drive people and be the best lineman on the field, be the best player on the field. And he’s starting to develop that. It’s just baby steps at this point.”
Youngberg said he agreed to switch from tight end but it wasn’t easy, at first.
“It was kind of frustrating for a little bit,” he said. “But I think it’s really strengthened our line. We’ve all started working together now. So it was better.”
Although he’s enjoying helping open holes for running backs like Wyatt Chapman, who rushed for 255 yards and five touchdowns in last week’s rout of Globe, his first love is playing defense.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I get to hit people.”
He hopes to continue his career at the college level.
“I’ve got some letters from some bigger schools like NAU and San Diego State,” he said. “But mostly (the letters have been from) small NAIA schools. I still want to see if I can get some bigger schools.”
Swartwood said Youngberg certainly has the size, quickness and ability to excel at the next level if he applies himself.
“Will can play like a man and be the best player in the state at times,” the coach said. “But he’s got to make a 100 percent effort every single play and come with it. If he does that, I don’t feel there’s any tackles, tight ends or defensive ends, for that matter, that are better than him in our division, easily.
“I expect him to do that. It’s hard to stay 100 percent focused and go 100 percent on every single play without losing any of your focus. Once he figures out how to do that, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with and hard to stop.”