Like most Americans, the holidays are a special time for Washington Redskins fullback Darrel Young.
Growing up with his parents and his older brother David, Young remembers staying up until 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve to try to sneak a peek at his mom wrapping presents, then getting up at 3:30 a.m. and trying to wake the rest of his family so he could start unwrapping them as early as possible.
Family is very important to Young and, looking back, he realizes how special those Christmases together with the rest of his family truly were.
"I had a father and a mother and a home. They've been married for 30-plus years. Any time you have parents like that, they set a foundation," he said.
Young remembers his house always being immaculately decorated. From the tree – which the 25-year-old insists has to be real – to the lights and ornaments, the Young household was filled with festive decorations. And it still is to this day.
"My dad does so much, I swear sometimes it looks like a Macy's tree," Young said. "Just the lights, the ornaments, he does the whole nine yards. My yard's always lit up. We have reindeer. Every tree is decorated. The walkway is decorated with lights. The light bill is ridiculous for the month of December."
Young still remembers the best gift he ever got on Christmas – a Mongoose bike that he had wanted for months. He was eight years old. To his delight, he found the bicycle waiting for him under the Christmas tree.
"I wanted this Mongoose bike," Young said. "It was a chrome bike. I wanted it so much that I never rode it because I didn't want anyone to beat me up and take it. I kept it in my room. I never rode it. I wiped it down every day. I was obsessed with this bike."
To Young's relief, the bike was never stolen. Sadly though, it also was never used.
"It's still in my garage to this day. My dad and I cleaned out the garage when I was home during the bye week and we started laughing because I still haven't ridden that bike," he said.
Of course, Christmas isn't all about the presents. At its root, the holiday is a special time to spend with the ones you love.
"My parents weren't millionaires, but they were rich with love," Young said.
The third-year pro remembers his house always being filled with holiday music. He remembers relatives playing dominoes and Spades and other card games. And he remembers his dad and his brother in the kitchen making delicious holiday fare.
"My dad will cook. He's the chef. I'll just eat until my stomach pops," the fullback said.
On Thanksgiving, his father makes fried turkey, ham, stuffing, yams, macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, collard greens, sweet potato pie and cranberry sauce. Christmas is just as lavish a spread. But Young's father's true specialty is his barbecue sauce, which shines during Fourth of July barbecues.
"My dad has this barbecue sauce that's amazing. If you don't like it it's because you're different," Young said. "I'm seriously thinking about marketing it. Every player that's had it has loved it. Every person that's had it has loved it. I have a big Fourth of July barbecue every year. People come there just for the sauce."
When asked what's in the sauce that makes it so special, Young couldn't say. That's because the recipe is a closely-guarded secret.
"He'll take it to the grave," Young said. "He won't tell me what he puts in it."
Of course, as the years go by and Young has gotten older, the meaning of holidays has changed for him. The presents and food become less important and it's the time with family that starts to matter most.
"I understand family values more. Just being a little bit older, being on my own, I still love the fact that my family wants to be with me on Christmas and I want to be with them," Young said.
He also enjoys a chance to give back to the two people who gave him so much growing up.
"It's different now because I'm the one giving gifts too, as opposed to just receiving them. I'm giving my mom something that means more. I'm not saying is meaningful because it's materialistic, but just to show that I appreciate what they have done and where they have taken me so far in my life. I just appreciate them being with me every step of the way because they've hardly missed NFL games and they never missed college games," he said.
His parents drive four and a half hours each Sunday to make home games at FedEx Field. And they fly out to as many road games as possible. Young's brother David, who is now a sergeant first class in the Army and is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, drove seven hours to see the season opener in New Orleans. The whole family was able to travel to Dallas to watch this year's Thanksgiving game, too.
"It was special for me. My parents had never been to Dallas. My brother is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, so he drove over for the game," Young said. "It's a nice stadium. It's Thanksgiving Day. It's nationally-televised. There's a great history between us and the Cowboys."
Of course, while a Thanksgiving victory over the Dallas Cowboys was thrilling enough, the time spent with his family afterward made the holiday truly special.
"After the game, I went back to Fort Hood where my brother is stationed and had a great weekend. He's a chef in the military. He cooked it up for us. His soldiers came over and we had a great time. That's the first time I've been around my family like that in a long time during the season – going back to last year, doing Christmas," he said.
With a brother in the Army who can be deployed overseas at any time, Young has learned to really savor the time they're able to spend together.
"It was good to see that because my brother is deploying again to go to Afghanistan. He has orders for March. So it's probably one of the last times I'll get to see him since he has to leave and train at the end of January, and hopefully we'll make this run at the playoffs. He'll be going to Afghanistan and maybe I'll see him one more time if I'm lucky before he gets out of here for a year," he said.
To make the most of his time with his older brother, Darrel stayed awake as long as possible during their time together. Much like those Christmas days growing up where he woke up at an ungodly hour, Young did his best to function with minimal rest.
"I honestly didn't sleep. I probably went to sleep at four in the morning and woke up at eight. That's just how it is when we get together," he said.
Even when Young's brother or parents can't make a game, thanks to a large network of aunts, uncles and cousins, he always has family close by.
"I have family here in Silver Spring. That's my dad's sister. She goes to every game, just about. There's support there," he said. "My grandmother had 13 kids. All of them had five or more kids. I'm the only one in my generation not to have any kids. I have over 150 first cousins.
"Every state I play in, I have family. It's just kind of fun to have ties who have always supported me and have basically been able to come out and help me live my dream. It's a cool experience."
There's another family Young can always count on too – his brothers in burgundy and gold. Young views his teammates as family and says that head coach Mike Shanahan has done a great job assembling a team full of close knit, high character guys.
"Shanahan has done a great job of building a foundation of guys who care about each other. I think that's what's different about this team," Young said. "Everyone asks what's different about this team. Well, we're not doing anything different. We're just closer.
"Look at the Packers. Look at New Orleans. Look at Pittsburgh. The teams that have winning traditions over a long period of time – those guys definitely have a foundation. They're a bunch of brothers coming together to achieve one common goal."
Young believes that together with his brothers, anything is possible. While he's taking the season one game at a time, he believes a 10-6 record and a playoff run is a legitimate possibility this year.
For Redskins fans, that would be the greatest gift of all.