Young stars in the NFL's "Super Ad," which debuts during the game. NFL officials and fans who voted on the league's Web site found Young's childhood story about selling snow cones at Washington Redskins games compelling enough to pick the reserve defender for the spot.
"It's good for the NFL and for me and my father," said Young, whose father, LeRoi, a cancer survivor, also will be in the commercial. "It's a funny story, but at the same time, it's reality."
Last September, the NFL sent production trailers to teams' headquarters around the league, asking players if they'd volunteer to tell a story about their careers.
The league then posted short video clips online and asked fans to vote for the ones they liked best. NFL marketing officials also weighed in to counter balance fans' tendencies to vote for more famous players.
Mark Waller, the NFL's senior vice president for marketing and sales, said one of the points of the Super Ad project is to showcase players as "personable, engaging human beings."
"They tell stories of really being able to live out a dream," he continued. "They aren't necessarily marquee players. These are the sorts of players whose personal stories would not get told if not for opportunities like this."
Last season marked the first time the NFL used the contest as the launching point for its Super Bowl spot, which airs during the second half. Houston Texans offensive lineman Ephraim Salaam starred in the first one. Fellow Texans lineman Chester Pitts appeared along with him, and the spot that was such a hit that Ellen DeGeneres invited the players to appear on her show.
Young, who wears a constant smile and his hair in long dreadlocks, recalled how his father got him a job as a vendor for both Redskins games in the fall and soccer games during summer. Young admitted spending more time watching games than working. He also said he'd run out on the field, imagining himself as an NFL player, when the stadium was empty.
The memory came to him in a flash as he walked out of the Saints' cafeteria toward the production trailer. His father was surprised to learn Young focused on that anecdote in his online pitch to voters, but "wasn't surprised a bit" that Usama admitted to being distracted by action on the field.
"I knew his love of football was more than money," LeRoi Young said. "He wasn't really pressed to make a lot of money, so he enjoyed mostly the atmosphere of being there at the game. I wasn't mad at him. I understood."
LeRoi said he never doubted his son's work ethic. As a kid, Young used to accompany his father on rides around the D.C. area to feed the homeless and is spending the winter finishing work on his degree from Kent State, where he played in college.
The father and son spent a week together in Los Angeles for production of the Super Ad, which also features actor Eddie Murphy's son, Christian, playing Usama as a boy.
LeRoi marveled at the turn for the better his life has taken since a year ago, when he was fighting multiple myeloma. LeRoi said with the help of a bone marrow transplant - and his faith - he has mostly recovered. Participating in the commercial with his son was a unique and thrilling experience, he said, adding he was pleased to see Usama recognized for his personal attributes, even if he has yet to earn much recognition as an NFL defender at this point in his career.
"It's an example of God's grace. He gives us things we don't even deserve. This is how I keep it in perspective," LeRoi Young said. "I had no idea 10 years ago that Usama would be talking about this or be in the NFL or even have a chance to do this. Usama got in the NFL and I'm along for the ride. It's a complete surprise and I'm totally baffled and in amazement for the attention we've gotten."