Charles Edward Young, father of five, is the man who promised that he would "revolutionize" the position of tight end...before he played a game in the NFL. ("I did revolutionize it," he says now.) He was, by turns, a young superstar (Eagles, '73-76), a traded outcast (Rams, '77-79), an inspirational leader on a Super Bowl champion (49ers, '81) and an elder statesman (Seattle Seahawks, '83-85). "In a locker room full of unusual people, Charle was truly unusual," says Merlin Olsen. For Young, life is not a game, with rewards for fast finishes. Life is a struggle, with rewards for survival.
"Struggle is good, because it enables you to fly," says Young. He speaks like this all the time. He is an imposing man who challenges listeners with cryptic parables. He is the president of Forbes-Young Enterprises, a small Seattle-based athletic shoe company, and he supports a track team that travels nationally, competing in junior meets.
His message to his children—Charles II, 18; Candace, 15; twins Cerenity and Chanel, 14; and Chancellor, 8—combined challenge and promise: "There is no one else in the world like you. I did my thing, you're going to do your thing." And when his oldest son approached him in the eighth grade and asked for his permission to play football, Charle said, "If you want to play, that's fine. But balance it with education."
Done deal. Charles Young II spent three years at O'Dea High in Seattle, where he was student body president, fifth in his graduating class (with a GPA of 3.86) and a track and football star. "An awesome kid," says O'Dea track coach Andy Slatt. "Any school he went to would have been lucky to have him." He chose Stanford after also visiting Washington. Notre Dame and USC (where his father was a star on the brilliant Trojan teams of the early 70s).
Charles II finished his freshman year at Stanford with a 3.6 GPA and would like to major in engineering, an enormous challenge given the demands of playing football. And he would like to graduate in four years, not five or six. "Just because I play football," he says, "I don't want to be a dumb jock." He slipped nicely into a Stanford program in need of speed and power, which at 5'11" and 195 pounds, and with a 4.40 time in the 40, he has in good supply. When Walsh, who coached Charle with the 49ers, first saw Charles at a practice, he thought, "That's Charle Young. Same style, same gait." Accordingly, Charles was moved from wideout to safety last season, but on Nov. 5 he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He underwent surgery but rehabbed quickly enough to compete for the safety job this fall. He is now No. 2 on the depth chart.
He used to follow Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe and Andre Rison, to learn about playing wide receiver. Now it's Deion Sanders and Ronnie Lott he watches, to learn to excel at safety. "How do you expect me to get better if I don't study?" he says.
Who better to study the past than the children of football history?