This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Sept. 27, 2008.
By Eric Gilmore
You couldn't have blamed Cal wide receiver Sean Young if he had walked away from football after the 2007 season and moved on with his life, far away from the frustration, disappointment and pain of his career.
In five years at Cal, Young had undergone two major surgeries - one on each of his big toes - and caught just three passes. He had spent countless hours in rehab or on the bench and only a few minutes on the field. So when he had to decide whether to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility - a solid proposition considering his medical history - Young had serious reservations.
"I knew coming back in I was going to be at the bottom of the depth chart, where I'd been the whole time," Young said. "I was still recovering from an injury." Young said he was leaning heavily against petitioning the NCAA. Then some advice from his father, Henry Young, hit home.
"I think he was just really discouraged," Henry Young said. "I said, `You never want to walk away from something and say I wish I would have.' "
Young not only came back for his sixth year at Cal, but he also won a starting job. And in his first career start he caught four passes for 81 yards in the Bears' 38-31 win against Michigan State.
"The whole week, I couldn't think of anything but this game," said Young, whose brother, Eddie, is a starting outside linebacker for Cal. "I was having dreams and waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about making plays.
"I was nervous the first portion I got in, and I just started easing up and everything just felt like practice. I was able to make plays. It felt great. It felt awesome."
So did catching his first career touchdown pass in a victory over Washington State, a 14-yarder from Kevin Riley. For the season he has seven catches for 108 yards.
If you ever doubted that good things come to those that wait, Young might convince you otherwise. He's been at Cal for so long that his teammates call him "Grandpa."
"I know one comment a lot of guys make to me is, `Sean, you know, I was in middle school when you were in college,' " said Young, who turns 24 in December. "Everyone teases me, but it's nice being the older one. A lot of people look up to me, and I can kind of mentor guys."
When Young came to Cal in 2003, he was a highly touted receiver from Berkeley High School. But in his first training camp he was tackled from behind, ripping the ligaments in his right big toe and breaking a small bone.
"I must have seen about 10 different foot specialists," Young said. "Over half of them said they couldn't perform the surgery. They said if I did get the surgery there was the possibility I would never be able to play football again or run."
Young finally found a doctor who performed successful surgery in January of 2004. But he missed spring practice and faced a long, arduous rehab program. What's more, by 2005 he was looking up on the depth chart at DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan, among others.
When the 2007 season began, Young was still buried on the depth chart, but at least his body was healthy. That is until Cal's third game when he caught a 19-yard pass against Louisiana Tech, was tackled from behind and suffered the same injury on his other big toe.
More surgery. More rehab. More pain.
After all that Young had been through, Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he was surprised to learn he wanted to come back.
"Because he's really had some pretty poor luck here," Tedford said. "He's been injured ever since he's been here. I think he saw or he recognized at least there would be an opportunity for him to be a strong contributor."
With Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan no longer blocking his path and with his body healthy again, Young moved up the depth chart.
Henry Young said that when he watches Sean play now, he can tell that for the first time since coming to Cal his son is "in that zone" again where he believes he can catch everything.
"It felt great to see him there, see him experience that feeling again," Henry Young said. "That in itself will be a lifetime memory for him."
After nearly 30 years as a sport writer and columnist for the Contra Costa Times, Eric Gilmore is now a freelance writer and blogger. You can find his latest work at http://bayareasportsbeat.blogspot.com.