AUSTIN, Texas - Seventh-grader Vince Young toiled away in his yard, raking leaves and piling them in bags. Each time he finished, his mother would dump them out and tell him to do it again.
It was his punishment for participating in a gang fight, and it was torture.
Felicia Young wanted him to hate it. Having struggled with drugs and alcohol for years, and with Vince’s father’s in jail most of her son’s life, she was trying to scare the kid straight.
“She told me I’d end up dead or in jail,” Young said, recalling his childhood in Houston, “walking with the wrong crowd and getting gunshots shot at you, trying to avoid a bullet.”
“When I was raking those leaves, I thought about that,” he said. “I started really working on football and school more, and that was that.”
“That” became the unleashing of an elusive, strong-armed quarterback who became a local legend in a city as big as Houston and has become an even bigger star at the University of Texas.
Young has led the No. 2 Longhorns to 19 straight wins and a Rose Bowl showdown with No. 1 Southern California for the national championship. He’s done it in such a spectacular way that on Saturday he was in New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, trying to join Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams as the only Longhorns to win the award.
Young finished second in balloting behind USC tailback Reggie Bush. Last year's award winning, USC quarterback Matt Leinart, finished third in voting.
Young’s supporters see him as the best of both. As a quarterback, he’s the team’s leader, like Leinart, yet as a phenomenal athlete capable of making eye-popping plays, he’s every defensive coordinator’s nightmare, like Bush.
Young’s won 29 of 31 starts, passing Bobby Layne — a college and pro Hall of Famer who set the standard for Texas quarterbacks back in the 1950s — for the most victories.
He’s accounted for 78 touchdowns in his career, breaking the school record of 76 set by Williams, the 1998 Heisman winner. His 8,705 yards of total offense is also a school record.
Funny thing is, midway through last season, critics wanted him to play another position.
Following a shutout loss to rival Oklahoma, Young was derided as a great runner whose awkward sidearm motion was too inconsistent.
“He HAD to move to receiver,” Texas coach Mack Brown recalled recently.
Instead of benching him or moving him to a new position, Brown left the team in the hands of a 6-foot-5, 230-pound project, flaunting his size and speed as Texas bullied teams with a punishing rushing attack.
The Longhorns haven’t lost since.
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