Austin, Texas Seventh-grader Vince Young toiled away in his yard, raking leaves and piling them in bags. Each time he finished, his mother would dump them out and tell him to do it again.
It was his punishment for participating in a gang fight, and it was torture.
Felicia Young wanted him to hate it. Having struggled with drugs and alcohol for years, and with Vince's father's in jail most of her son's life, she was trying to scare the kid straight.
"She told me I'd end up dead or in jail," Young said, recalling his childhood in Houston, "walking with the wrong crowd and getting gunshots shot at you, trying to avoid a bullet.
"When I was raking those leaves, I thought about that," he said. "I started really working on football and school more, and that was that."
"That" became the unleashing of an elusive, strong-armed quarterback who became a local legend in a city as big as Houston, and has become an even bigger star at the University of Texas.
Young has led the No. 2 Longhorns to 19 straight victories and a Rose Bowl showdown with No. 1 Southern California for the national championship. He has done it in such a spectacular way that Saturday he'll likely be in New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, trying to join Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams as the only Longhorns to win the award.
'Capes and S's'
His top competition comes from the guys Texas will have to stop Jan. 4 - Trojans running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart, who won the award last season.
Young's supporters see him as the best of both. As a quarterback, he's the team's leader, like Leinart, yet as a phenomenal athlete capable of making eye-popping plays, he's every defensive coordinator's nightmare, like Bush.
"At this level, you see a few guys with capes and S's on their chest, and Vince Young is one of them," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said - before Young passed for three touchdowns and ran for another against the Buffaloes in a 70-3 victory in the Big 12 title game Saturday.
Young has won 29 of 31 starts, passing Bobby Layne - a college and pro Hall of Famer who set the standard for Texas quarterbacks back in the 1950s - for the most victories.
He has accounted for 78 touchdowns in his career, breaking the school record of 76 set by Williams, the 1998 Heisman winner. His 8,705 yards of total offense is also a school record.
Funny thing is, midway through last season, critics wanted him to play another position.
Following a shutout loss to rival Oklahoma, Young was derided as a great runner whose awkward sidearm motion was too inconsistent.
"He HAD to move to receiver," Texas coach Mack Brown recalled recently.
Instead of benching him or moving him to a new position, Brown left the team in the hands of a 6-foot-5, 230-pound project, flaunting his size and speed as Texas bullied teams with a punishing rushing attack.
The Longhorns haven't lost since.
Young's breakout game was the last Rose Bowl when he ran for touchdowns of 20, 60, 10 and 23 yards and threw for another in Texas' 38-37 victory over Michigan.
"Vince Young is the finest athlete I've ever been on the field with," Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr said afterward.
As a passer, Young silenced his critics with 2,769 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. He's also run for a team-high 850 yards and nine TDs in an offense that scored 50 or more points seven times. His pass efficiency rating is 168.6, the best in the nation.
"We take for granted now what he does," Brown said. "He does whatever he needs to do to win."
Young's arm got Texas its biggest win of the season, a 25-22 victory at Ohio State, with a late-game touchdown pass to Limas Sweed.
Then the season really started rolling.
Texas ended five years of frustration against Oklahoma. Young was the center of the post-game celebration, leading thousands of fans in singing the "Eyes of Texas."
Three weeks later, he saved Texas' season with 506 total yards - 267 on the ground, 239 through the air - in a 47-28 win at Oklahoma State. Texas trailed 28-9 in the second quarter and Young's 80-yard touchdown run at the start of the third turned the game.
"When the chips are down, he can pull something from nowhere," offensive tackle Justin Blalock said.
Young is just as important a leader off the field as on it.
He leads the pre-game, behind-the-scenes "flow sessions" of music and dancing that keep the players and coaches loose. To get in better touch with his players, Brown downloaded hours of hip-hop music into his i-Pod.
"I was telling him (Brown) sometimes what 50 Cent be saying, it's similar to some of our guys' lives," Young said. "We talk to each other like we're best friends. I knew our relationship would be good, but not like it is now. We've been together a looonnngg time. It's let me grow into a man."
Since midseason, Young has maintained that he plans to return for a senior season, even if his family could use the riches of an NFL contract.
"It's my decision and right now my decision is to come back to school," he said before Texas beat Colorado for the Big 12 title.
For now, he's having too much fun to think about much of anything other than playing USC for the national title. After the Big 12 championship, Young and the players danced in a spontaneous "flow session" on the field.
A red rose tucked behind his ear, he lifted the Big 12 trophy over his head and gave a shout to the tens of thousands of Texas fans whooping it up in the stands. Before leaving, he went to the stands to sign autographs.
"Knowing where I could be at," Young said, "(I'm) very thankful for the position God has blessed me to be in."