BELLEVILLE — Althoff High School quarterback Eric Mertens had a good feeling last Friday despite being faced with a fourth-and-goal play at the 17.
He had sophomore wide receiver Keenen Young to thank for that.
"He's a stud, he came back in the huddle and said he's going to make a big play for us -- and he did, just like always," said Mertens, whose pass was hauled in by Young for the game-winning touchdown in a 23-21 victory over Collinsville. "We've worked together a lot and we've got a good rapport going. He's one of my favorite targets."
Despite missing much of the second half because of leg cramps, Young had five catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns to earn Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Week honors for Week 1 of the high school football season.
"I was cramping up a lot, so I didn't get to full speed," said Young, who had a 43-yard TD catch earlier in the game. "He just threw it out there and I was able to get under it."
Young comes from a football family that includes father Kent Young Sr. (East St. Louis Lincoln High) and older brothers Tashawn Young and Kent Young Jr.
Kent Young Jr. is a sophomore linebacker at Missouri Valley College.
"He comes from a good tradition in his family and they work hard at it," Althoff coach Ken Turner said. "They were all pretty successful."
The youngest Young made an impact last season as a freshman at Althoff as one of four receivers with at least 400 yards, catching 37 passes for 411 yards and two TDs.
"It's a spread offense, so I like this offense a lot," Young said.
He saved his best performance for the Class 2A state championship game against Mercer County, when he had nine receptions for 133 yards in a 14-7 loss.
Not bad for someone who didn't begin playing receiver until eighth grade.
"He's a very talented kid," Turner said of Young, who ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the University of Illinois camp this summer. "He's a sophomore, but he does not look like a sophomore and does not play like a sophomore. He's only getting better -- and he's a nightmare matchup for people because he doesn't look fast, but he's got breakaway speed.
"He's also a strong receiver and has excellent hands. The sky's the limit for him. He can only continue to get better and better."
Being part of a solid receiving group that includes seniors Luke Frazier and Austin Mueller and running backs Dennis Jackson and Malik Easley also keeps Young from drawing all the attention.
"We feel like we've got five or six guys that run good routes and catch the ball well and have breakaway speed," Turner said. "It's kind of hard to double him and if you do, we'll just try to get the ball to the other guys."
It's not hard to find Young on the football field. Besides wearing No. 1, he's also rocking the metallic gold Nike Zoom Vapor Carbon Fly 2 cleats.
"I'd been looking for some gold shoes for a while," Young said. "I saw that Eastbay had some, so I had to get them."
Those shoes were a golden blur Friday night at Lindenwood Stadium. He had two 43-yard catches in the game and consistently got behind defenders.
"He does it every day in practice," said Turner, who liked the way Young stepped up in a big situation. "It wasn't even about him being a sophomore ... he's that go-to guy. The kid covering him was pretty good. He made a pick earlier in the game.
"But with the game on the line, I was more worried about (Young) cramping and not being able to get downfield."
Young did it and Mertens put the ball where it needed to be.
"The way they were playing him, he was beating them deep," Mertens said. "A little bit of a pressure-packed situation, but he always comes through in the clutch."