YUKON — Bill Young glanced at the assistant coach struggling to carry a load of red tackling pads.
“Give me some of those,” he said in the pre-dawn cool of Monday morning.
With two pads in hand, Young walked onto the field at Yukon High.
Walked back into football, too.
On a day high schools across Oklahoma ushered in football season with the start of practice, excitement was high in many locales. In places like Jenks and Anadarko, titles will be defended. In Clinton and Westmoore, new coaches will be welcomed. In Shawnee and Kingfisher, talent will be abundant.
Still, no one was more giddy to be on the gridiron than Bill Young.
“I had a hard time sleeping last night,” he said. “I was like a little kid starting school.”
That’s because he was returning to coaching. He was out of the business last season for the first time since 1968. Ever since starting his coaching career as an OSU student assistant, he has been on the sideline. Forty-five seasons in a row, culminating with a return to his alma mater as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.
But then after the 2012 season, OSU cut him loose.
Last season, Young was unemployed and bored.
“I didn’t do anything,” Young said. “That was the problem.”
“I just sat and watched television, got on the internet.”
Young admits that’s not entirely true. He watched every football game he could. He watched live. He recorded games. He even asked friends in coaching to send him DVDs of their games. And he went to a bunch of football practices as an observer, watching how other coaches went about their business, trying to pick up tips for his return to coaching.
After all, he never saw the end at OSU as the end of his career.
“I never really wanted to get out,” he said. “You get let go, and you’re out.”
Young could be sore about the way that things went at OSU. He was told after the best season in Cowboy history that the remaining year on his contract would be honored but that it wouldn’t be renewed after that, that college football was a young man’s game, that he would be out as Cowboy defensive coordinator.
Young was shown the door by his alma mater.
Worse, he had just finished building a house in his beloved Payne County, a place that he thought was perfect, a home in which he planned to retire.
But if Young is miffed, the 67-year-old is hiding it well. He watched all of OSU’s games last season. In talking about giving pep talks, he even made a playful crack about his high-octane replacement.
“Glenn Spencer taught me a couple of them,” Young said.
The simple but profound truth is that Bill Young loves football. Loves working with other coaches. Loves teaching young men. Loves seeing the fruits of that labor. Not even a messy divorce from OSU soured him on any of that.
“I didn’t have any remorse or anything like that,” Young said. “That’s just kind of part of things.”
Young had a chance to get back into college coaching. There were two or three job offers, but all of them were out of state and none of them felt right. But when the head coaching job at Yukon came open, Young was intrigued. He was reminded how much he had loved coaching at PC West, less than four miles as the crow flies over Lake Overholser from Yukon High.
And Monday morning, he looked right at home.
Wearing black Nikes, khaki shorts and a red and gray pullover with the Yukon “Y” over his heart, Young stood in the end zone as the scoreboard counted down to 6 a.m. and the start of practice. With the sky still black and the super moon still super, the stadium lights illuminated the field, a hint of Friday night on a Monday morning. Players in red helmets, red jerseys and black shorts silently lined the sideline.
Young smiled a bit as one of them ran onto the field to join his teammates.
“Either you got in the weight room more than you thought or you’ve got shoulder pads on,” the coach told the player. “You can’t have shoulder pads on, son.”
But Young quickly turned serious. He eyed another player running onto the field after the scoreboard clock had reached the end of its countdown.
“You’re late,” Young said.
Within a few minutes, the sound of heavy breathing mixed with cicadas singing.
For the better part of an hour, players wove their way through cones and tackling pads and agility ladders. Young bounced from one conditioning station to another.
“Run all the way past me,” he hollered.
And when a player didn’t do as directed, Young sent him right back to the front of the line.
“Drive your arms!”
“I walk faster than you!”
Being a head coach for the first time in his lengthy career, Young has encountered challenges. Referees have to be scheduled. Equipment has to be ordered. Middle school teams have to be overseen. But on the field, Young looks completely at ease, completely in his element.
He gathered his players and coaches together in the middle of the field just as the morning sun was peeking over the top of the stadium.
“Our motto this year is what?” Young asked.
“Finish,” a few voices answered.
“Finish,” Young said. “Finish, finish, finish.”
How they finish remains to be seen, but for Young, the start was something special.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.