Vince Young on His Life in Austin
People of Austin Profile Series
The mention of Vince Young in any context across the state of Texas more than likely conjures up vivid memories of speed, athleticism, and national championships.
Likewise, his name in Austin brings smiles to people’s faces as they reflect on great moments at Darrell K. Royal Stadium and perhaps the chance meeting they once had that confirmed he was as nice as he was talented. But Young’s return to the city and the university that made him a football legend comes with a new title and a reimagined legacy. Using the platform granted by his success as an athlete, he is addressing issues of educational achievement and access, as a development officer for UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE)—a portfolio of programs that help to make UT a national model for diversity in higher education, as well as a resource for underserved communities. DDCE has tasked Young with bringing attention to these efforts. We sat down with Young to hear about his new gig, being a Longhorn and where he gets his Tex-Mex fix.
TELL ME A ME ABOUT YOUR ADOLESCENCE? WHAT ROLE DID EDUCATION PLAY?
I was the first one in my household to go to college and the road to get to UT was tough. I messed around my freshman year of high school, so by the time it came to apply to college my coach and counselors made it clear that it wouldn’t be easy. My counselor told me, “it’s going to be up to you to go to college.” I didn’t really start to focus until my junior and senior year and to get my grades right, I had to go to night school so I’d wake up, go to school, go to football practice, and then go to night school so I could improve my chances of getting into a top-tier university.
YOU WERE AN ALL AROUND TALENTED ATHLETE, WHY FOOTBALL?
I grew up in Texas; it was the natural choice.
DID YOU ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN FOR LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL? WHY COME BACK TO AUSTIN?
Well first of all, I’m a Texas boy. Whether it’s Houston or Dallas or Austin, I just love Texas and the Southern hospitality. But there’s something really special about Austin. The people are real down to earth and it doesn’t hurt that I won a national championship here. I get so much love and respect from Austin; it’s really encouraging and humbling. But being a Longhorn legend really means something to me and I’ve always paid close attention to people like Earl Campbell and James Street. The legacies they have beyond their time as football players and the impact they’ve made in the community is inspiring. I hope to have that type of community impact, particularly in Texas education.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG PEOPLE THROUGH MANY DIFFERENT PLATFORMS (AND YOU ALREADY ARE THROUGH YOUR FOUNDATION), WHAT PROMPTED THIS PARTICULAR MOVE TO HIGHER EDUCATION AND WORKING WITH THE DIVISION OF DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?
For me it was about my life experiences and knowing how people can get distracted by all the craziness and temptations. It is important to me to demonstrate that people like me can excel beyond the streets, beyond the image of urban culture and even beyond the football field. We have other dimensions. I want kids to know you can enjoy life and be focused and that starts with education. I always say listen, you are going to be 31 like me one day and are going to have some things you’ll want to be passionate about, but you’ll need an education to execute that passion.
YOU DON’T HAVE ANY PRIOR EXPERIENCE IN DEVELOPMENT, BEYOND YOUR PASSION AND EXPERIENCES ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD AND TV. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO GO THIS ROUTE?
Well, the obvious is that being a successful athlete I’m a face and people recognize me. So I automatically demand attention. But I don’t think that’s all I bring. After people see me, they hear what I have to say and see my passion. I love that moment, when they see how passionate I am about empowering our youth, because I think it surprises them and they are that much more encouraged to support our work. I am so appreciative and in awe of the work Dr. Gregory Vincent has done to develop the DDCE platform and I want to be a part of it, I want to contribute.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB SO FAR?
I enjoy the outreach programs and connecting with underserved, somewhat neglected communities. When I was at UT there was still a negative perception of black athletes, so from the very beginning I made it clear that I had two goals: 1) to win a national championship and 2) to graduate. So, when I go back into neighborhoods that look like the one I grew up in, I try to plant the seed that education is a powerful tool—it creates opportunities and it helps change the perception of young black males, that’s important.
WHAT PROGRAMS IN PARTICULAR ARE YOU INVOLVED WITH?
It has been really cool to get involved in programs like project M.A.L.E.S (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) and the African American Males Research Initiative, which work to influence the education success of men of color and support the White House initiated My Brother’s Keeper efforts. I can really relate to that work and I think it’s a really important focus in our country.
I’VE HEARD PEOPLE REFER TO YOU AS AN AMBASSADOR, SALESMAN AND CELEBRITY SPOKESPERSON. HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR ROLE?
I’m just doing what I’m passionate about. Everyone else wants to put all these big, fancy words around it, but I’m doing what I feel called to do. This is what keeps me humble, happy and with a smile on my face. To know I’m making a difference in a world that needs it so much is empowering. To be able to talk to young men and let them know I’ve seen it all, that I’ve been at the top, fallen and now due to prayer, my family and a great education from UT, I’m finding my footing in a new role.
WHAT ELSE ARE YOU ENJOYING ABOUT BEING BACK IN AUSTIN? ANY PARTICULAR PLACES YOU LIKE TO HANG?
I’ve really enjoyed working on the Longhorn Network as a commentator. It wasn’t something I ever aspired to do, but several mentors encouraged me to do it and it has been great. It was hard work at first, because you really have to know your stuff and you really have to build chemistry with the other commentators. But now, I just make sure I look good in my suits, make sure I study and make sure I bring the silly. Austin has also been really good to my family. My wife and I have felt really welcomed by the community and my kids have enjoyed it as well. They’ve already told me they are going to UT, which of course I’m cool with. I also love being out on Lake Travis and enjoy the vibe on Rainey Street.
YOU’RE HOUSTON BORN AND BRED, SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT AUSTIN THAT YOU LOVE SO MUCH?
The food. The food here is amazing.
SO WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT?
Vince Young Steakhouse, of course! But if that doesn’t count, Maudie’s. I love Tex-Mex!
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