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Mass exodus

Weighing the merits of leaving college life behind

Posted: Wednesday January 11, 2006 11:15AM; Updated: Wednesday January 11, 2006 3:38PM
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Vince Young
Will Vince Young yearn for moments like this while playing in the NFL next year?
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"Our baby's all growns up."
--Trent (Vince Vaughn), Swingers

Has it only been one week since the Rose Bowl ended? Just seven days since we witnessed perhaps the greatest postseason college football game ever played?

So much has happened. Vince Young (who shares a photo with yours truly on page 137 of this week's Time magazine) has parlayed the bowl-game performance by which all future BCS championship-game performances will be measured into what will soon be an eight-figure salary. Marcus Vick has gotten into so much trouble that Dick Wolf is wondering if he can spin off another Law & Order series based on him. And, suddenly, Laura Quinn's lil' brother is looking like the early favorite for the Heisman Trophy.

And every underclassman with even a little juice, it seems, is declaring for the NFL Draft before Sunday's deadline. Running backs: Maurice Drew (UCLA), Brian Calhoun (Wisconsin) and Laurence Maroney (Minnesota). Quarterbacks: Besides Young and Vick, Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs. Wideouts: Devin Hester (Miami), Santonio Holmes (Ohio State) and Chad Jackson (Florida).

Other studs leaving school early include Haloti Ngata (DT, Oregon), tight ends Vernon Davis (Maryland) and Leonard Pope (Georgia), Ernie Sims (LB, Florida State), Mario Williams (DE, North Carolina State) and Ashton Youboty (CB, Ohio State).

It's contagious. College football has gone Ron Kovic on us.

Let me tackle Young (since nobody from USC was able to) first. To me it all comes down to this: It's YOUR CHOICE, Vince. My only concern is whether the people who counseled Suddenly Superman were trying to Convince Vince or Con Vince.

My SI brethren were all for Vince going pro. My beloved colleague Arash Markazi, a USC alum, seems to think that Young would be wise to go pro now, using the example of Matt Leinart to bolster his case. "He may say he has no regrets about coming back for a fifth year at USC, but if I'm Matt Leinart, it would be hard to say that my return has been a success," Markazi wrote a day after USC lost its first game in more than two years. Those were the tears typing.

I mean, I don't want to get MasterCard on anyone here, but how do you put a price on playing in that Notre Dame game in October? Did you see the look on Leinart's face after that game? How many years will he play in the NFL before he feels that type of emotion on a football field; if he ever does? How do you put a price on playing a major role in the 2006 Rose Bowl, the kind of game they'll be talking about long after Leinart's done playing at (and here's my least favorite catchphrase of the moment) "the next level"? The 2006 Rose Bowl is going to be savored by us football fans as much as the 1984 Orange Bowl has been.

People seem to be so much more interested in destinations than in journeys. And that's sad. So Leinart's team lost the Rose Bowl -- barely. Does that mean the experiences of the past six months were all a waste of his time? Hardly. Go ask Matt. I remember reading an interview with Bill Murray (a guy who seems to "get it") in Esquire last year in which he was asked if he was disappointed that he did not win the Oscar for Lost in Translation. Murray's response was that no award was going to equal the experience he had making that movie. Amen.

Yes, but Vince is gonna GET PAID! Great. If that's what Vince wants, I say great. I'm a lifelong middle-classer, financially, so I know not what it is to be really poor or really wealthy. If Vince stuck around in Austin, he'd have the opportunity (not a guarantee, an opportunity) to stake the Longhorns to a second consecutive national championship, to participate in more memorable games (Ohio State and Troy Smith visit on Sept. 9; Oklahoma and Adrian Peterson in Dallas on Oct. 7, anyone?), and perhaps win the Heisman Trophy. Granted, he'd create a longer Longhorns list of memories for both us, and him, to savor.

When Young is 33 or 34 years old, when he owns more land in the Lone Star State than J.R. Ewing and Lamar Hunt combined, will he want this year back? Maybe. Maybe not. It all comes down to whether he wanted to hang around with Mack Brown and his fellow Longhorns another year or start getting paid for his skills. That is perfectly understandable. Young's dilemma: Brown versus Bored of Education.

Young will be compensated handsomely, and deservedly so. And that will allow him to provide financial assistance to the people who are most important in his life. That is, again, fantastic. But let's not fool ourselves. Young's cash will only do so much to improve the lives of the people around him. Consider another precociously talented Vince (Adrian Grenier), the title character from Entourage. He just got offered Aquaman, and was smart enough not to turn it down, but that doesn't mean that his big bro, Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), has any more self-esteem about his own acting ability.

(WARNING: Segue alert!)

Which brings us to Vick. A month ago I wrote these words about the then-Virginia Tech quarterback, who happens to have an older brother who does OK for himself in the world of professional football: Vick is a solid talent, but he is still nowhere close to being a leader. He has one more year to put it all together.

When I heard that Vick would announce for the NFL Draft after being booted off the Hokies following his depravity at the Gator Bowl (stomping on Louisville All-America Elvis Dumervil's leg) and his being less-than-forthcoming about a speeding ticket in December, I was sad. This baby, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the trail that older brother Michael has blazed, is not all grown up.

Why did Marcus Vick want to go to "the next level"? I'd imagine that if your older brother is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, you'd be able to make rent next month. It should have been obvious to anyone who knows or cares about Vick that what he needs is, in no particular order, a sense of shame, some humility and a lot of maturity. He might have gotten a shot at those things had he humbled himself by enrolling at a lower division school and playing next fall. But how much will he grow as a person if he just runs away from his problems to the NFL? I mean, the Spearmint Rhino is not going out of business anytime soon.

As it happens, this all may be moot. On Monday, Vick, faster than you can say "Opium Lounge," surrendered to police in Richmond, Va., after allegedly pulling a gun on three teens in a McDonald's parking lot. Vick should have been starting for Virginia Tech next autumn. He still could have been playing quarterback for, say, Appalachian State. He wanted to be playing quarterback for, say, the Miami Dolphins. Now there's a very real chance that he'll be suiting up for the Mean Machine.

Here's hoping that Vick learns that no amount of money or glory can fill the hole that currently resides within him.

Which brings us, at last, to Brady Quinn. BQ-QB. Or, if his modeling past would allow, the "GQB." A year ago, Quinn was not named to the first, second or third teams in Street & Smith's College Football preseason publication. In fact, there were 19 quarterbacks cited under the "Honorable Mention" tag. The Notre Dame signal-caller was not among them. Six months later, Quinn, who likely would be a top-10 pick if he declared for the April draft, is an early favorite for the 2006 Heisman Trophy (along with Ohio State's Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., Oklahoma's Peterson and let's not forget any number of Michigan offensive players).

Quinn is staying put in South Bend, surely because he's enamored of its temperate climate and plethora of gorgeous female creatures. Or maybe because he is just honestly enjoying the journey. Young, Drew, Hester, Ngata, et al. are going to be very rich very soon. Good for them. And Quinn will spend another year scarfing pizza and living an existence every other 21-year-old senior can only dream about. Good for him, too. All of them, as long as they followed their heart, are "So money!"

But I worry about Marcus Vick. Because the richness he needs is not in the places where he has been seeking it.