Young and Restless

Dec. 7, 2005

  • Heisman Watch
  • By Jessica Garrison


    There are so many wrong turns that Vince Young could have taken.


    It's hard to imagine, looking at the Texas quarterback and Heisman candidate now, how close he came to ending up a cautionary tale or local tragedy, remembered only in the minds of those who regretted a great waste of youth and talent.


    What matters is that he didn't, but that is only part of what makes Young extraordinary.


    As a kid in Houston, Vince Young had the odds against him. His mother raised Young and his two sisters mostly on her own, his father in and out of jail. Felicia Young had her own troubles with substance abuse, and she and her family lived in one of Houston's toughest neighborhoods, Hiram-Clarke.


    In this eat-or-be-eaten scenario, Young began to swim with the sharks. He started hanging out with gang members, thinking insiders were safer than outsiders, scared of being picked on for refusing to join.


    His association with them didn't last long - he got picked up by police after a fight between rival gangs broke out in his middle school. There was Young, at the police station in handcuffs, and there was his mother, equal parts angry, worried and determined that her son was going to take a different path.


    "She told me I'd end up dead or in jail," Young said. Felicia left her son Vince no choice - the lifestyle that landed his father in jail wouldn't take him prisoner as well. He was going to get active in sports, stay attentive in school, and if that meant she had to play bad cop, so be it. Better her than the police, the courts, the streets.


    Felicia knew how close she'd come to losing her son already. Young was struck by a car while riding his bike at the age of seven, and the internal injuries landed him in the hospital in grave condition. That was one scrape she couldn't punish or plead him out of - it was doctors, Young's body and, she claims, a bit of faith that brought him through.


    Young's sophomore year in high school was his first at starting quarterback. He became a three-year starter, the Offensive Player of the Year in one of the country's toughest divisions, and Parade's National Player of the Year. The colleges came calling, and when he chose Texas over Miami, Felicia's prayers and parenting had done their work - Vince was on his way.


    As a sophomore at Texas, Young had established himself as the next in the line of important Texas quarterbacks. In the seventh game of his freshman season, he had taken over as the starter from Chance Mock - by the end of the season he was just two rushing yards shy of becoming the third freshman in NCAA history to run and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season. Texas coach Mack Brown and his staff started to dream big. This kid could play.


    They weren't disappointed. Young opened the 2004 season with an appropriate 65-0 stomping of North Texas. Then Arkansas, Rice and Baylor were quick victims of the Texas charge, and Young was starting to show signs of his future self.


    It took a 12-0 shutout loss to Oklahoma in mid-October to bring Brown's troupe back to earth. It was their fourth straight defeat at the hands of the Sooners, and people whispered that Young, with his impressive rushing yards and strange sidearm throws, might line up better at receiver, at tailback, anywhere but behind center.


    Brown knew better, and he was right. Young never let the Longhorns lose like that again. They ran the table on the 2005 season, as Young set career marks against then-No. 19 Oklahoma State, and the crowning achievement, the 2005 Rose Bowl.


    Against Michigan on New Year's Day, Young took his team on his back. He scored four rushing touchdowns on a Texas QB record 192 rushing yards, threw for another TD and carried the Longhorns to a 38-37 victory.


    "I'm not amazed anymore," Brown said. "The amazing thing is he just keeps doing it."


    "Vince Young is the finest athlete I've ever been on the field with," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said, in a now-famous postgame statement. The MVP performance was a preview of Young's role in a 2005 season that he planned to make no less than extraordinary.


    As a junior at Texas, Young has come full circle, from an unknown potential statistic in Houston, to a volatile talent waiting to be harnessed, to a mature team leader whose name will be etched in the record books for years to come.


    "He makes you remember that it is a team game," Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby said. "That aspect of the game is always on your mind with him, and he puts this team first before any individual, including himself."


    Young has the best winning percentage of any Texas quarterback in history at .935. He holds the school records for total offense (8,705 yards), career touchdowns (78), and quarterback rushing yards (2,077).  He even conquered the Longhorns' especially bitter five-year losing streak to Oklahoma, with a sweet, sweet 45-12 victory in Dallas on October 8.


    This weekend, Young will come to New York with hopes of hearing his name called for the Heisman Trophy. Were it not for another kid with amazing legs out at USC, Young might have the award locked up, but many have picked Reggie Bush to run away with the honors.


    The Heisman, Young maintains, was never what his game was about. The wins, the teams, his coach, but not some piece of hardware. Does he want it? Yeah. Does he need it? Nah. The kid from Hiram-Clarke knows how far he's come already without it.


    Young has said publicly that he plans to come back for his senior season, even with the NFL knocking on the door. There are still lessons to be learned, after all, and if Young is still chasing the Heisman, a year without competition from a Trojan tandem could make him the odds-on favorite.


    The chance to coach Young another year is a possibility Brown is cautiously optimistic about. No challenge, no trouble, no defense has been able to stop Young yet. What's to stop him from doing the same in the NFL?


    But Young could decide to come back. If he does, he would be at the center of an extraordinary team, poised to make another extraordinary run with a kid who has turned out to be an extraordinary young man.


    Jessica Garrison is an Assistant Editor for She can be reached here.



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