Eighth-String Quarterback

“Eighth-String Quarterback,” New Era, Nov. 1989, 36

Eighth-String Quarterback

Attitude can take you from the bottom of the heap to the top.

It was my senior year at Greenwich (Connecticut) High School when I had the chance to take college recruiting trips. Deep in my heart I wanted to play for BYU, but when I made my official visit, Coach Edwards called me in and said, “Steve, we hear you’re a pretty good athlete, but we’re sorry, we don’t have a scholarship for you right now. If one opens up, we’ll let you know.”

Obviously, I was very disappointed when I went home.

But somehow a scholarship did open up. All summer I worked like a crazy man trying to get in shape for football. I ran miles and miles. My dad had an old ’65 Oldsmobile. It was a huge car—the kind that holds five people in one seat. And I used to push that around the neighborhood because I once saw Dick Butkus do it to get in shape. All it did was mess up my back, but I worked as hard as I could to be ready.

As I worked, I tried to figure out which quarterbacks would be in front of me. I thought there were about four ahead of me, and that wasn’t too bad for a freshman. But you never knew. Maybe the coach would really be impressed and make me third team. And then maybe he’d want me to get some playing experience and make me second string. And then, maybe he would think I was great and make me first team as a freshman. That was my frame of mind when I got to BYU that fall.

I remember the day I arrived at school. I went to the fieldhouse and looked at the depth chart, which everyone’s name by position and order. I saw all the names I figured I’d see in front of mine, but there were more. Not until I got to the end of the list did the name Young appear. Eighth-string quarterback—in parentheses. That’s like letting you be in the school choir but putting you off in another room to sing by yourself.

And the parentheses. What did that mean? Maybe waterboy? What?

I soon found out. In practices, I was to play the opposing team’s quarterback. Unfortunately, the defensive players never figured out that I wasn’t really the opposing team’s quarterback. They creamed me all week long.

I remember so many times when the opposing team, with me at quarterback, would run the dumbest plays. They’d have ten guys go one way so the quarterback would be left alone. Then their defense would smash me. I’d be at the bottom of the pile; my helmet would be turned sideways, and I’d be peering out through the ear hole, trying to see where I was.

After about five weeks of that, I became very discouraged. The coach didn’t even know my name. It seemed that nobody cared.

I called my dad and said, “I’ve had it with this whole thing. I’m not having fun; I’m not enjoying myself. I think I’m going to quit and come home.”

Luckily, because he truly cared for me, my dad said, “Son, you can quit, but you can’t come home. I don’t live with quitters.” So there it was. I kept on playing, no matter how discouraging it got.

One of my toughest tests came at the first home game. It was a crisp fall afternoon, the band was playing, the balloons were up, and there were people everywhere. There was excitement in the air, but not in my heart as I walked over to the stadium with that huge crowd. Eighth-string quarterbacks don’t suit up, so I was going to sit in the stands with the rest of the spectators. I was deeply disappointed and discouraged that I wasn’t playing. I wondered how in the world I would ever make it onto that field. It seemed almost impossible.

That very day, right there in the stadium, I decided I would do two things. First, I was going to be the first player on the field every day and the last one off. Second, I was going to give 100 percent to every play I ran, no matter how stupid it was. I was going to execute every play like it was the last one of my life.

Now I was asked to run a lot of dumb plays that season, and I got a lot of mud in my face. There were a lot of days when the varsity players thought I was crazy because I didn’t leave the field until after they did. It was embarrassing, but I hoped it would make a difference.

And it did make a difference. I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Coach Edwards glanced over during one of those dumb plays when I was working extra hard, and he said to the coach next to him, “Hey, who’s that scrub quarterback over there? Let’s check him out.” What matters is that I didn’t quit, things got better as the season went on, and I finally got the opportunities I had always hoped and worked for.

The key was learning to develop good habits and self-discipline so when the coach just happened to look, I was doing my best. When I was the eighth-string quarterback in parentheses, becoming the starting quarterback at BYU often seemed impossible. It was the little things I did every day, the habits I developed, that eventually put me on that field in front of 65,000 people. It’s the same way with the gospel and life. Our ultimate goal of returning to live with Heavenly Father may seem an unreachable goal at times, but the daily habits we develop in life are the ones that will help us get there. We need to develop habits of hard work, self-discipline, honesty, consideration, and finding ways to serve those around us. We need to develop the habits of scripture reading, meditation, and starting and ending each day with prayer—good, sincere communication between us and our Heavenly Father.

I’ve had a lot of experiences since then. I survived the Los Angeles Express, struggled with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now I’m playing with the world-champion San Francisco 49ers, my ultimate professional goal. Through all the ups and downs of my professional career, I have always tried to maintain those same habits that I developed at BYU, and I believe it’s paying off. Whether I am the starter every game or not, I feel I’m still successful because I have worked hard and I’m always ready to go into the game.

Our journey through life will also have highs and lows, good times and bad, but we’ll end up winners—we’ll reach our ultimate spiritual goals—if we maintain the good, positive daily habits that will help us progress. Our Heavenly Father will be there with us, both along the way and when we reach our destination.

Illustrated by Rob Westerberg