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David McWilliams, a fellow freshman that fall of '60 and now a Longhorn assistant coach, describes both the initial and the far more important secondary impression Young made on campus. "I remember like it was yesterday how Robert looked that first day of practice," he says. "It was hot as a bowl of East Austin chili and here came Robert kind of waddling out onto the field, that big belly of his leading the way. Back then he'd never touched a weight, and so all of his 245 pounds was in his thighs, butt and midsection, and I thought to myself that there went one old boy who wouldn't be with us too long.
"But then we broke up into groups to do some short sprints, and what did that big rascal do but outrun everybody. And I don't mean just the linemen, I mean everybody. We knew then he was something special. Later on we realized that Robert could beat us all not only in sprinting but in just about everything else—arm wrestling, standing broad jumps, shooting pool, eating Mexican food, drinking beer, sleeping late and whatever else anybody cared to try. He had the damndest reflexes I ever saw. After a while no one would play him in that game where you try to slap the other guy's hands, because he'd never miss and he was almost impossible to hit."
Darrell Royal, then the Texas coach, vividly remembers Young, even after two decades. "We've had a lot of young men pass through here since I came," Royal says, "and I've seen some phenomenal athletes, but the only one either here or anywhere else I know of who had the same sort of God-given raw talent for the sport of football that Robert had was Earl Campbell. They had it all and still do—strength, speed, quickness, size, balance, coordination and an almost instinctive insight into the nature of the game. When we could manage to motivate him, I saw Robert do things here as a freshman I never thought a 17-year-old boy could do. None of our varsity players was a one-on-one match for him. He was voted the outstanding freshman lineman in the SWC, and I think I even remember him getting a perfect rating of 100 in our freshman game against A&M. But even at that he never played up to his potential. I don't think lazy is the right word, but he was mighty hard to motivate. He was so sweet-natured. I honestly don't believe he particularly liked to play, and I'm sure he never came close to realizing what his great physical gifts could do for him in life. Had he stayed eligible here and gotten serious, there's little doubt in my mind he'd have been at least a two-time All-America, an Outland Award winner and a million or two dollars richer after playing pro ball all these years than he is now."
Had he stayed eligible and gotten serious. The fact is, in those days Young was considerably less interested in playing football than he was in simply playing. As Royal says, far from being an ornery Texan bent on mischief, back then Robert had his mind on fun. He was like a young bear. His pleasure was to eat and drink his fill, frolic a while in the evening air, sniff around for a taste of honey, then finally wend his ursine way back to his den in Hill Hall.
In high school he lived at home, and his ability on the field saw him through the underwhelming academic obstacles at Brownwood High, as it has seen many other strong and swift young men through similar obstacles, but at Texas he didn't have Mama Young to make him come in early, to roust him out every morning and to send him on to class. And, of course, Robert slept as he played, splendidly. It is said that after eight or nine dozen tamales and a case of beer, Robert could enter a state not unlike hibernation.
But his life-style at Texas finally rendered him ineligible, denied him access to football after his freshman season and, for the first time in his young manhood, made it necessary for him to face existence outside the cocoon of an athletic program. He drifted. Within a year he was married, and he accepted the offer of a scholarship at Howard Payne, a small college back home in Brown-wood generally incapable of producing the sort of player Young seemed destined to become.
At Howard Payne, Young completed his eligibility in an undistinguished way, just going through the motions, and in 1964 he was drafted by St. Louis in the 19th round. Shortly after arriving in St. Louis, however, Young suffered a head injury. He decided to chuck pro football and go home to his wife and brand-new baby girl. The Young family moved to nearby San Marcos, Texas, and Robert earned a bachelor's degree from Southwest Texas State.
That year Young came to understand that his only real alternative to the scuffle of everyday work was to take another crack at the pros. Accordingly, he decided to do what people had long been urging him to do—train hard with weights and get in shape before camp. And so he came to me and asked if I would help him. At the time I had just finished my graduate work at the University of Texas and was living in Austin, preparing to take a teaching position at Auburn in the fall, and training for the approaching National Power-lifting Championships.
I had known Robert ever since he came to Texas as a freshman and was introduced to me by a mutual friend from Brownwood, who brought him by the gym one winter day to show me what kind of boys they grew back home. I was shown. Only death or coma could erase from my mind the image of that rather fat-looking young man walking up to a bar loaded to 305 pounds and ramming it up over his head as if he had been doing it all of his life. The facts were that he had just turned 18 and had never trained with weights. In all my years of following strength sports I've never seen anything that made such an impression on me. Having witnessed his potential, I did everything but hold a gun on him during and just after his freshman year to get him to train, but all he would do was drop by the gym every few weeks and lift something, which gave stark evidence that he was growing stronger simply by existing.
Naturally, then, when he asked for my help in 1966, I was about as willing to work with him as a voice coach would be to work with a young Pavarotti. When we began, Robert weighed 265 pounds to my 330 and was perhaps 75% as strong as I was, but every week the gap narrowed, no matter how hard I trained. Only the fact that he had to leave for a tryout with Denver kept him from catching and passing me. At the end of our eight weeks of intensive work with the weights, Robert's body weight had increased to 300 pounds and he had added an average of 125 pounds to each of his training lifts.