By Jon Stif
James Young’s freshman football season at North Muskegon took a hit on Oct. 8.
The 6-1 quarterback’s opening year in college football ended on the schools track at the end of a running play when he was kicked out of bounds by a Ravenna defender. The result was a cleanly broken collarbone bone and a slightly separated AC joint in his shoulder.
The real break Young was hoping for began last December when he realized he might just have a chance to do the improbable, from the first snap of the college season as the No. norsemen.
It’s not that crazy, if you think about it.
Not too long ago, his older brother Mack spent three years as a North Muskegon quarterback before graduating in 2019.
Currently, his older brother Champ is the captain and center for North Muskegon, the only player who is guaranteed to touch the ball before James makes every play.
And, going back further, his father Paul Young, took over as the second-year starting quarterback for the Muskegon Big Reds in 1992. Paul’s first start was against Traverse City in their LMAC rivalry years. (Lake Michigan Athletic Conference) while James made his first start for North Muskegon against traditional powerhouse Muskegon Catholic.
Paul is the head coach of Norse’ JV while Mack is the attacking coordinator of the same team.
Knowing the opportunity before him, James Young decided in December that he was going to give the opportunity everything he had. At the time, he weighed 150 pounds. In July, he turned 172 due to weightlifting, watching what he ate and having a growth spurt.
Having the family support James needs has allowed him to spend time throughout the spring and summer with Mack, now the offensive coordinator for their father’s junior varsity team.
“Especially last year, we did a lot of things to fix (James’) throwing motion and get him to really read defenses instead of flying by the seat of his pants,” said Mack, who is the eldest of his siblings. “For him, I think it’s completely mental. He’s a ridiculously talented quarterback for a freshman, but he’s also a freshman. He is 15 years old.
“In college football, you don’t even really know how to read Cover 2, Cover 3, man, none of that stuff. So it was mostly about getting him acclimated to the mental aspect of it.
James said the pair worked on shortening his throwing motion and pocket presence, as well as how to watch a movie and learn from it. James explained that every quarterback has a timer for how long they feel comfortable standing in the pocket before they run away.
“My timer got a bit longer and I started making passes and it all went well,” James said.
“He taught me so much about watching a movie, how I can break it down. As small as he was, he knew a lot and he has so much college experience. And he pitched over 1,800 yards, so I knew I absolutely had to listen to him and he gave me some really good advice.
At the Oakridge game, Mack felt his younger brother was playing like an 18-year-old. Playing behind Champ, a true senior who leads the Norsemen down the line on both sides of the ball.
“It gives me a different level of alertness in the game because I know he’s out there,” Champ said. “From the first game he was super nervous and just wasn’t really ready for it. But I think even towards the end of that game he started to pick up the pace and it was cool to see him s ‘adapt to that. He’s got grown men running at him left and right, so it was cool to see him handle the pressure.
While James was unhappy with his first two performances, losses to Muskegon Catholic and Montague, after that he felt he had hit his stride for the Norsemen (3-5, 3-4 WMC), leading his team had shutout wins over Shelby and Hart before falling to Whitehall.
Then Young had perhaps his best game yet, albeit in a loss, when he went 13 of 22 for three touchdowns against Oakridge, leading his team to the cusp of victory before an interception Oakridge’s late match didn’t seal the game.
“Coach (Larry Witham) briefed me and we had a two-game winning streak and then we went to Oakridge, we hadn’t beaten them in a long time,” James said. “I ended up doing really well against them and started to get really comfortable.”
James plans to be back healthy for the basketball season, where he will once again have the chance to team up with Champ on the varsity team. But, until then, he has participated in practices and films with his North Muskegon teammates.
What does mom think?
When you talk to James’ mother, Jill Young, she’ll tell you that his decision to strive to be his school’s starting QB started way earlier than December.
“He (James) wanted to be a quarterback for his school since he was 4,” said Jill, who joked that she was just as obsessed with football as the rest of the family. “James is a really unique child. He is focused and dedicated in a way that many children are not.
Starting out as a freshman QB isn’t the most ideal situation for any mom watching her kids play football. But as good parents tend to do, Jill recognizes and embraces faith and sees children’s talents on and off the field.
“Faith played a big part in how we raised our children,” said Jill, who met her husband Paul at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN, near her hometown of Chattanooga. “Our faith compels us to use what we have to try to make this world a better place for everyone and we hope we have passed on some of that to them.”
Jill, who is also a youth pastor at Bethany Church in downtown Muskegon, also sees the value of football in teaching children important lessons.
“Team sports, especially football, can help parents teach such valuable lessons about effort, sportsmanship and what it means to be a good teammate,” said Jill, a sports supporter from team and their family-oriented values. “Kids learn what’s best for the whole team, not just what’s best for yourself.”
While the boys lead the way in varsity sports in the Young family, there is still a future after the boys.
There’s the youngest, little sister Delaney, a seventh grader at North Muskegon. And it seems, she is just as competitive as her brothers.
“She (Delaney) has been trained since she was a baby and she’s a killer,” Jill said. “I find myself yelling at her to be gentle (on the football and basketball pitch). She loves football as much as the rest of us. We’ve coached her well.
The Norsemen close out the regular season by hosting Ludington on Friday night. A win could put the Norwegians in favor of the new playoff point system and get them into the MHSAA playoffs.
Getting that win will be a challenge as North Muskegon is now on their third string QB, second Ben Meyers.
Denny Belmonte had taken over James’ duties against Ravenna but suffered a dislocated shoulder injury against Mason County Central last Friday.
Whatever the end of the season for the Norse, the Young family’s involvement at the North Muskegon football ground in 2021 will be discussed around their family table for many years to come.