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The Star
Tim Layden
January 07, 2006
The most dynamic quarterback in college football, Vince Young carried Texas to a national title even as he struggled to come to terms with his estranged father
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January 07, 2006

The Star

The most dynamic quarterback in college football, Vince Young carried Texas to a national title even as he struggled to come to terms with his estranged father

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And Young, 22, does even more. During the off-season in Austin it's Young who keeps the keys to the practice field. It's Young who'll tell a joke when tension needs to be broken. ("He'll even do a little dance now and then during stretching, just to crack everybody up," says junior tailback Selvin Young.) And at the team's first meeting before the 2005 season it was Young who, upon seeing players behaving as if they were in a nightclub still celebrating the win over Michigan, shouted, "Hey, y'all! Rose Bowl's over!"

Like Ryan Palmer learned on a muggy summer night, the guy never lets up.

IT'S COMPLICATED business mining the stimulus of a young man's passion. In Vince Young's case this much is certain: His life changed one afternoon when he was a freshman at Madison High in Houston. Young can't remember if it was fall or winter or spring, just that he was in ninth grade (1998-99 school year) and that his father, a man he had barely known, picked him up at home and took him for a ride in his car. "Just showed up one day," says Young, "and took me driving around."

Vincent Paul Young (father and son have the same name) was just past 40 and had spent much of his adult life incarcerated, convicted at least six times over the previous 16 years for offenses ranging from auto theft to possession of a controlled substance. His wife, Felicia, with whom he had three children including little Vince, says he left the family home for good when their son was four. "I don't know what the point was of him coming by that day," says Vince. "There was no message. We just talked. He told me a little bit about why he did this or that in his life. Maybe he just wanted to be around his son for a minute. Like we were father and son.

"But, man, he inspired me that day. He inspired me to feel like this was somebody I didn't want to be. I didn't want to do the things he did. I want to graduate from high school and college, and I want to have a wife and kids and a family, and I want to be there for them. I want to be different from him."

Vince grew up in the home of his maternal grandmother, Bonnie King, in the Hiram Clarke neighborhood of southwest Houston. "He didn't grow up in a ghetto, but there's trouble not too far away," says Ray Seals, Young's football coach at Madison. In the single-story, four-bedroom house, Vince was surrounded by women: Bonnie, Felicia and his sisters, Lakesha (four years older than Vince) and Vintrisa (one year older). Not only was his father absent, but his mother also was often not around; Felicia worked evenings as a home health aide and stayed out late with friends. "I always held a steady job, but I did a lot of partying," she says. "I'd be out drinking and smoking with my friends, being crazy Felicia." Bonnie worked nights as a nurse but called home frequently to check on the three children and then brought them breakfast before they went to school. Lakesha and Vintrisa alternated between picking on Vince and protecting him. "In the end we all watched each other's backs in the neighborhood," says Vintrisa. "And Vincent, he just never made bad choices, never got to running around with the wrong people."

Vince shakes his head. "Grace of God, man," he says. "Grace of God."

That, and sports, too. Vince was nearly a grown man, physically, at age 12 and a dominant player on youth baseball, basketball and football teams. Two men helped him develop as an athlete. Ivory Young, an older cousin who played basketball at Alcorn State, guided Vince to high-level AAU basketball teams, keeping him on the road and out of Houston during the idle days of the summer. And Vince's uncle Keith Young, a former high school and small-college quarterback, taught his nephew the basics of the position.

Vince became Madison's starting quarterback as a sophomore, and the Marlins went 33-6 over the next three seasons. The tailback was Courtney Lewis, who went on to Texas A&M and has rushed for nearly 2,500 yards over the last three years. "We had speed, we had power and we had Vince," says Lewis, who remains one of Young's closest friends.

During that time Ivory Young asked an old friend from Alcorn, quarterback Steve McNair, who had played in Houston with the Oilers before the team became the Tennessee Titans, to come watch Vince play. "He reminded me of myself, only bigger," McNair says now. As a senior in November 2001, Vince passed for three touchdowns and ran for three more in leading Madison to a 61-58 victory over North Shore High of Galena Park in a Class 5A regional semifinal. In December the Marlins advanced to the state semifinals, Madison's best finish.

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