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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 years old 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," Vince continues. "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. "A lot of kids in that neighborhood go bad." 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 weeks of the summer. And Vince's uncle Keith Young, a former high school and small-college quarterback, taught his nephew the rudiments of the position.
Vince became Madison's starting quarterback as a sophomore--"With his talent, we decided to let him learn on the job," says Seals--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 1,800 yards over the last two 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.
The consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation, Vince narrowed his choices to Miami and Texas. The day the Longhorns won the recruiting battle, Vince won over the Longhorns' coaches. Sitting in his grandmother's living room, he told offensive coordinator Greg Davis that he was not only willing to redshirt but also wanted to redshirt behind Simms and Chance Mock. "After Vince told me he wanted to sit out, with all the hype he was getting," says Davis, "I went out to the car and called Mack, right there by the curb, and told him, 'This is the guy you've been looking for.'"
occasionally Vince's father saw him play and read accounts of his games in the paper. But just past midnight on Nov. 8, 2000, when Vince was a junior at Madison, his father was arrested by Fort Bend County sheriffs on the University of Houston's West Campus after he and an accomplice had taken a television set, a VCR, a computer and a laser-disc player from a university building in which Young had worked as a janitor. In a statement to police six days later Young said, "I needed money for child support because I am already on back payments.... I told [his accomplice] my situation, and we agreed to go to the University of Houston campus to get some things so I could turn it into money.... I was desperate for the money." Young had kept a key from his janitorial job and used it to enter the building. In July 2003 he pleaded guilty to burglary and, because of his long criminal record, was sentenced to 16 years in jail.