BETHLEHEM, Pa. Just before 10 a.m. Saturday morning at Lehigh, a shout from a fan interrupted the routine drills occurring on the field in front of him.
Yo, Vince! the barking voice called.
Heads turned in anticipation and chatter rustled from the stands. Along the sideline strolled former national champion Vince Young, who greeted his on-looking admirers by spreading his index and pinky fingers into his alma maters signature Hook em Horns gesture. His contract with the Eagles freshly inked, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback wore not a helmet, but a green-and-white visor along with the customary red quarterback jersey, No. 9 displayed on each side but no name printed on his back.
Young may very well hide in the background during his time in Philadelphia, where he seeks a fresh start as a backup to Michael Vick, but not on this day. No, on the day that fans returned to Lehigh, bringing with them the vivacious spirit of Eagles training camp, the ex-Titan spent his introductory moments as the center of attention.
Vince Young, Vince Young, Vince Young! came the chants, soon replaced by the traditional E-A-G-L-E-S! In return, the man of the hour offered a sheepish smile and a few subtle waves.
If Young is ready to move on from his troubled past and mature into the leader of an NFL franchise, he certainly has found the right place.
You hear a lot of history about Eagles Nation, he said. And just to be a part of it, Im very, very happy to be here and be a part of a great, great organization.
Teammates and fans appeared equally as happy. At least in its opening stage, the Vince Young-Eagles marriage seemed like an ideal fit.
And what makes it ideal? Well, precisely the same factors that have allowed the Michael Vick experiment to flourish thus far.
First among them, Young was quick to point out, is Andy Reid. His eagerness to offer second chances and the respect he owns across the league attracted another beleaguered quarterback.
That respect exists particularly within Young, stemming from his teenage years in Houston. In 2005, his standout junior season at Texas earned him the Maxwell Award. Reid was a guest at the ceremony, where Young made sure to heed his mothers advice: When you see someone you really respect, Felicia Young used to tell Vince, dont be shy to go up and speak to him.
Reid recalls the eventual third-overall draft pick probing him about Donovan McNabb and what made the then-Birds QB successful. Little did Young know, he had planted the seeds for an eventual Reid reclamation project.
Upon his arrival in Tennessee, the college star struggled to bear the weight of being an NFL cornerstone so much that he considered retiring after his rookie season. Seventeen interceptions in 2007 followed, then injuries in 2008 and a benching in 2009.
The conflict came to a head last season, when Young had an altercation with coach Jeff Fisher in Week 11. His long-awaited release was completed on Thursday and he was an Eagle by Friday.
Now a weathered 28, Young is turning to his new head coach to redirect his life and career, just as he did with Vick two years ago.
"I've learned from all my mistakes," Young declared Saturday.
Vince and I had the opportunity to talk and have a long conversation, Reid said. I feel very comfortable with bringing him in.
I know hes going to come in and fill a spot for us as a backup quarterback.
Those arent words normally spoken of a Heisman runner-up, of a breath-takingly talented athlete who once single-handedly carried a team to a national title.
But adversity, whether self-inflicted or coincidental, has a way of interfering with blossoming NFL careers.
Things happen in this league, Reid said.
Jason Babin, now a teammate of Youngs for the second straight year, confronted the leagues cruelty and came out on top. A five-year, 28-million deal signed Thursday with the Eagles became his ultimate reward.
The defensive end who was chewed up and spit out by four organizations out-of-position in Houston, misused in Kansas City, and an afterthought in Seattle and his first go-round in Philly understands the mental process Young is undergoing.
When you get fired, theres a self-evaluation that goes on. Its humbling, Babin said. You tell yourself listen, this is what Ive got to do now. Ive got to earn it back. Whatever it takes.
Coaches and the guys upstairs obviously believed Young was ready, he said. Im sure hes here to work.
Here, Young gets a year-long apprenticeship with Vick. He will receive first-hand lessons in starting over and rededicating oneself to the game, in maturing and rehabilitating ones image. As Vick learned from McNabb, Young hopes to learn from Vick.
"Hell be able to watch and see how I handle certainsituations and my approach to the game," Vick said. "I think it will rub off on him.There will be no quarterback controversy, however, just a gifted protg preparing to step in when called upon and, along the way, pushing his personal mentor.
Oh yeah, were gonna compete, Young said. Thats what we do and its gonna make him play better and its gonna make me get better.
The one thing I know about Vince Young, is this guy wins football games, Reid said. Those are the guys I want. I love surrounding myself with that energy.
The energy arrived on a bustling Saturday morning at Lehigh, where an attentive Young stood amongst his fellow quarterbacks in meetings during and after practice. Much of the reclamation process involves planning, with instruction from teachers like QBs coach Doug Pederson, but more transpires naturally, with continual observations of Vick providing opportunities for mental notes.
The latter is most vital to Youngs restoration.
Im a working product. Aint no one perfect in this league, Young said. As guys get older and more mature, they start to take off. Im kind of in that mode right now.
E-mail Brian Kotloff at firstname.lastname@example.org