Leaders and Legends: Part I

Salman Rushdie once said that sometimes legends make reality and become more useful than facts. This is most apt in times of great need when darkness blinds us to the truth and we can either wallow in the pity of stark reality or dare to cling to something that may not be great but gives us the promise of greatness.

These moments are the ethereal material from which legends are crafted. No legend begins in a time of tremendous wealth and triumph. Legends begin when the chips are down and the people desperately need some being or group of beings to take the challenge and dare to be better than the times they are given.

In football most legends are formed on the field of play. The Fighting Irish have their fair share of stories of young men driving, scratching, and clawing for glory between the hashmarks. Names like Gus Dorais, Joe Montana, and Rocket Ismail all conjure up images of athletic splendor and crowds cheering as insurmountable odds are swept away as if by the hands of gods. The whistle blows and helmets crash until these titans emerge victorious in the end zone. Look to the field of play and that is where you will find the crucible of legend.

Some legends, however, do not emerge with a thunder clap. Some legends, instead, are born with nothing more than a small knock on a door in the dwindling calm of early morning. Last year, when Irish fans despaired and their enemies danced with glee, one player stood up to take the challenge. One player looked beyond what was and decided to drive, scratch, and claw for what could be. That player was Sam Young.

By now everyone knows the story. Young knocked on Coach Weis' door at an ungodly hour and simply asked what he could do to help the team. While the details of the conversation remain between the two men (as they should) the results did not. Irish fans were given something to cheer for in a cheerless season. This one act of taking up the mantel of responsibility may not be on par with Rockne's winning percentage or Joe Montana's chicken soup bowl, but it was desperately needed. Someone had stood up, raised the flag, and said, "Follow me."

There aren't enough words in the thesaurus to describe how massive Young is physically. Sitting down to talk to reporters this preseason he looks like a fire topped mountain stopping by for a chat. He stands at a towering 6-foot-8 and weighed in at 330 pounds, giving him the honor of being the heaviest player on the team. His personality is as engaging as his stature is imposing. He gives a hearty laugh when some joker suggests that Coach Weis may not be in the best position to give Young the nickname ‘Tubby'. "I'm not touching that one," He says. One can tell by his smile and eager eyes that he loves the game and truly loves the team.

Young will be a leader this year as he is by far the most experienced lineman with 25 career starts. He is also a powerful presence on the practice field jawing with his teammates and keeping the energy going. During a footwork drill Young followed Thomas Bemenderfer, who knocked over a mat causing problems for everyone behind him. "Well, you [expletive deleted] that one up," Young said slapping Bemenderfer on the shoulder.

As Young thunders around the field like a Clydesdale he exhibits all the fundamentals of leadership:

He is giving. When asked about being switched from right tackle to left tackle and back he gives a shrug with his answer. "Not a big deal," he said. "Plain and simple. I mean right side left side…I'm pretty much, you know, wherever they put me I'll play. I've always had that attitude."

He is humble. When asked if he has emerged as the leader of the team he is quick to point out, "We don't have just one guy on the offensive line," said Young. "No one's going to be perfect every day. For instance, if I have a bad day someone's going to be there to pick me up and vice versa, and that's the one great thing that's transpired over the course of the summer."

Finally, he is focused. He spent his Christmas break working with the guys at the Combine and most of his off-season working out at Perfect Competition near his home in Florida. Perfect Competition can brag about such high profile clients as the New York Giants' Plaxico Burress and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Maurice Drew. "You talk about winter conditioning, you talk about spring ball and this summer everyone was putting in hours working their rear ends off; now it's time to get going," Young says.

And as far as commenting on 2007, Young holds up a beefy paw saying, "I can't do that. Right now we're just worried about next season…we've been preparing since the season ended last year. As soon as we got back from California we went right to work. I'm proud to say I was a part of that. If you want me to give you a grade on the off-season I would say B+. The reason I say that is because we still have to earn that A during the season."

Legends aren't always given statues. Some are forgotten in favor of more glorious or exciting ones. The legend of Sam Young's pre-dawn meeting with Coach Weis as the rest of Notre Dame slept unsoundly in the dark may not be told ten or even five years from now, but it was there when we needed it, and, Rushdie would agree, it was so much more useful than facts.

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