NASHVILLE -- Despite coming off a 2006 season in which he won Offensive Rookie of the Year and helped to double the Tennessee Titans' win total from the previous year, Vince Young said he felt lost in training camp last summer.
He was hurting. He was overwhelmed.
At age 24 -- only one year into his NFL career -- he said he considered retirement.
!(/teams/tennesseetitans/profile?team=TEN) Vince Young said he values the respect and admiration his teammates have for him. Here are some of the things they had to say about their signal caller:
Linebacker Keith Bulluck: "Whatever pressures were going on in his life at that time last summer, he was feeling big stress. He was talking about quitting football and though it might have been for the time, for the moment, it was real. I tried to look out for VY as a friend. We went to Europe this past March and it was good for him. Everyone there thought we played basketball because we're so tall. He was only a phone call away from home but a world away. It was really good for him. I could see him just release the stress this time around. He's our leader. That role is natural for him. He's going to handle everything. He's strong. And we believe in him."
Tight end Bo Scaife: "Everyone goes through hard times in life, through tribulations and trials, and last summer was really hard for Vince. He had a lot of burden on his shoulder. When you have a heavy heart like that, it's worse than an injury to your knee or ankle. It's real. It was my job as a friend and teammate to get him back up and that's what the closest people to him did. He is like a brother. He's coming into his own as a quarterback. He will continue to succeed."
Linebacker Kyle Vanden Bosch: "He's definitely more comfortable with the leadership role now. I see the things he is doing on the field, in the weight room, and he is an all-around leader now. In these OTAs we are doing more things, building the offense around what he does best. He does some things no other quarterback can do. He is not a conventional quarterback. So, he shouldn't be in a conventional offense. I know he gets that. I think we're getting that."
Defensive end Jevon Kearse: "Vince is a great leader. He was thrust into the leadership role and has handled it well. Most guys in this league take three to five years to be able to lead. He is doing it now. He knows what it takes."
"I really thought long and hard about it," Young said on Thursday after practice. "There was so much going on with my family. It was crazy being an NFL quarterback. It wasn't fun anymore. All of the fun was out of it. All of the excitement was gone. All I was doing was worrying about things.
"My teammates helped lift me out of it. I prayed really hard. And I began to focus on God's calling for me. Play football. Be a role model."
Refurbished, Young followed his 8-8 rookie campaign with a 10-6 mark and a trip to the playoffs. Now, as he gathers with his teammates and readies for his third season as an NFL quarterback, Young, who turned 25 on May 18, says he is better prepared for the assaults from without and within that come his way.
The scrutiny -- standard in the life of a star NFL quarterback -- is intense.
For a black one -- considering the history at the position -- and especially for Young, when taking into account his exhausting roots, the mind can be twisted and tricked. The focus suffocating.
In recent days, pictures of Young surfaced on the Internet drinking shirtless at a party back in his college town of Austin, Texas. Young said the party was a private one held by his former University of Texas teammate and current Oakland Raiders safety Michael Huff after Young had participated in Huff's charity softball and football camp for kids.
Among the unflattering captions, it was suggested that Young was not focused on football.
"First of all, it happened in early April, not last week, and there were a bunch of my former Texas teammates there and several other NFL guys," Young said. "It got kind of hot in there and several of us took our shirts off. Somebody snaps a picture. Here we go. It was young people, me included, having a good time, but I realize my mistake. It was not the model, the image I want to give to the kids. My teammates here have so much love and respect for me just as I have for them. They have barely said a word about it."
A year ago, a similar event might have had a bigger impact on Young's state of mind. However, things have changed for him.
"I have a stronger circle. Now I can handle this kind of stuff without it making me want to give up football," Young said. "I learned that 24/7 I'm representing the Titans and, especially, the kids all over I am trying to influence. I look at my man Michael Vick. I learned from that. I look at Pacman. I learned from that. I look at some troubles recently for rappers T.I. and Lil Wayne, guys I listen to. I learned from them. I've learned from my life.
"You can get too much going on where you can't control it anymore. No matter how much money you get, no matter how much comes your way, you have to control yourself. I know it's up to me. I can't get too big for my britches."
In other words, Young has to continue to grow up fast. Very fast.
As his exposure to the world, to life, unfolds in a blur, Young said he has to remember what he already knows. What he has already experienced. What he has already survived.
Raised in a home led by his mother and grandmother, Young is the youngest of three, with two older sisters. At seven years old, a vehicle hit him while he was on his bicycle. The bike's handlebar slammed into his stomach and resulted in him being hospitalized for months. As part of an early childhood in a thorny part of Houston, he was enticed by gangs and, with friends, vandalized and burglarized property and routinely skipped school.
Young said he saw at least 10 people shot.
Saw two die.
Once, a man his sister was dating was shot down the street, ran to their home, kicked in the door and lay on the floor bleeding. Young was nine or 10 then. All the women around him screaming. He saw it. He learned from it. Soon he began to ride his bike around his neighborhood and pull a mower behind him, cutting lawns and washing cars to contribute to the income in his home.
"I got it," Young said. "I was going to be in jail, crippled or dead."
At Texas he became one of college football's most dramatic players and with Tennessee he is 17-12 as a starter. He can throw it and he can run it, but critics want to see more in his throwing. More in his passing. More accuracy. More touchdown passes.
"It's 'Vince can't do this' and 'Vince can't do that,'" Young said. "I don't want to be a pocket quarterback. I want to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. Compare me to Randall Cunningham in my game. I ask our coaches to let me be me on the field. I listen and I do what I am asked. But they are listening, too."
Especially Mike Heimerdinger, Young's new offensive coordinator.
Heimerdinger said he was at first surprised when he first met Young and witnessed first hand his size (6-foot-5, 233 pounds), leadership abilities and how "he is so engaging and can take the air from a room." He loves Young's arm but is teaching him the importance of accuracy via footwork.
"His feet have been all over the place," Heimerdinger said. "And in hitting a golf ball, in hitting a baseball, in shooting a basketball, in any sport, your feet are the base of it all and must be set underneath you properly. We are focusing on that. It is going to make him a better quarterback. He is going to become more accurate and that is going to help us become not only a better offense but impact our defense and make us a better team. Bottom line is whether you are Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, you are judged on winning."
And Titans coach Jeff Fisher is puzzled by much of the consternation over Young. While developing, Young has won. Besides his 58.6 winning percentage as a starter, Young is one of only 11 quarterbacks of the 53 drafted in the first round since 1983 to lead his team to the playoffs in his first or second season.
"I had a 10-year run here with No. 9 that was unforgettable," Fisher said of former Titans quarterback Steve McNair. "I want a 10-year run with No.10 now," he said of Young.
McNair happens to be one of Young's confidants. So, too, are Michael Jordan, gospel singer Yolanda Adams and his pastor back home in Houston. Backup quarterback Kerry Collins is in his ear often on the ins and outs of being an NFL quarterback and Young said that wisdom has proved essential.
Young has spent time this offseason returning to Texas to finish his degree and to host his football camp for kids. This year, he said, it was held in a "nice" area of Houston. Next year, he will have it near his old "low-income" area of Houston.
Go in. Go out.
So much, he said, like the life he has led. Like the one he is living.
"We've had a taste of the playoffs, and now we are a stronger team and want more," Young said. "I want a great year. We need a championship here. This team, this community deserves it. I know things are going to happen to any NFL quarterback, not just me. We're sticking together here. I love my coach (Fisher). He understands me as a person. I need him to focus on me as the person, not the player. I think he knows like I know -- the player is going to be all right."