Man Seeks College FB Career at 40
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Jeff Young is used to the jokes by now.
``What? Alzheimer’s settling in?″ says 18-year-old Josh Wisniowski, needling him all the way to the locker room about the Beatles and other ancient history.
Young, a divorced father and logger, takes it in stride. He knew it would come with the territory when, at 40, he decided finally to chase his dream of playing college football.
``I get a lot of comments, but they’re all in fun,″ said Young, one of four players vying for the punting job for the Fresno City College Rams.
Young may be the only 40-plus football player competing nationally, according to George Killian, executive director of the National Junior College Association.
``We don’t keep stats on that but I doubt we have anybody 40 or over. That would be a very rare exception,″ Killian said Wednesday.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association doesn’t track the age of players either, according to Rick Campbell, a football statistician with the agency in Overland Park, Kan. At least one player has Young beat: Chuck Roseberry was 46 when he played for Pennsylvania’s Kutztown College in 1994.
Young and his coaches have yet to get a good grasp of his talent.
One of the leading candidates for punter at the season’s start, he pulled his hamstring after the first scrimmage and was sidelined for the first four games.
But he was back in full pads this week, and coach Vance Stanley says there’s a good chance he will get to kick for the Rams before season’s end.
``I can’t say anything but positive things,″ Stanley said. ``He’s worked really hard. He has a positive attitude. He’s a pleasure to be around, and an asset to the team in every way.″
The whim to play football has been gnawing at Young off and on since his 1976 graduation from Sierra Union High School, where his 43-yard punting average earned him all-league honors and college offers.
But Young put off those chances for personal reasons, mostly related to his father’s death from a heart attack.
``I had the opportunity to play but I didn’t have the stability to make a move at that time,″ he said. ``I kind of withdrew and became unsociable. I didn’t want to leave the environment I was comfortable in.″
Instead, Young went to work felling trees and started a family, staying close to his childhood home near Shaver Lake, a town in the Sierra foothills about 40 miles northeast of Fresno.
He didn’t pick up a football for 15 years, until his sons grew old enough to play in Pop Warner leagues. He began thinking about a comeback when he volunteered as a high school coach and realized his right leg was still strong. He committed to his dream last year, after his marriage fell apart.
``Once I became divorced, nothing was stopping me from going out for the team, if I could arrange my work schedule around it,″ said Young, who practices at least five afternoons a week and takes classes at night.
Young, who holds an associate’s degree in liberal studies from Fresno City and is working towards a teaching certificate, is a self-described eccentric. He has raised llamas, and jumps into his cross country skis every year to trek 20 miles to a remote lake to be the first to fish there.
Two of his biggest boosters are sons Jason, 18, and Riley, 16, who both play for Sierra Union.
``They’re not really surprised by anything I do,″ Young says. ``Both think it’s neat that I’m doing it. I seem to do everything the hard way.″
His busy schedule and splitting wood all these years has kept him trim and youthful. Young feels he is in the same shape as he was 10 years ago, only he has to work harder to stay conditioned.
And while some players think it’s strange playing with someone as old as their fathers, he has been accepted as an equal.
``He’s just another guy on the roster,″ says Wisniowski, a freshman and backup quarterback whose dad is just a few years older than Young.
But even if he doesn’t get the lead punting job, Young said he can go on to his next goal _ moving north to teach elementary school and coach sports at any level _ knowing he at least gave it his best shot.
``I just love the game,″ he said. ``I don’t want attention. That’s not my nature. This is about personal achievement.″