“All the dreams, all the hopes for the National Championship come down to this play…”
Anyone who was college football-conscious in the last 20 years knows what happened next.
Four years before that play, Vince Young came to Austin to play for the Texas Longhorns with high hopes and even higher expectations but struggled to make them materialize early in his career.
Young struggled in his early starts as a sophomore, including a now infamous game against the Oklahoma Sooners, throwing two interceptions in a 65-13 blowout. In fact, in his storied career, the signal-caller managed just one win over rival Oklahoma, a 45-12 victory in the storied 2005 season. Even among the struggles, the potential was always clear for Young, illustrated by some fan-favorite moments.
In the first of two miraculous comebacks against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2004, Young and the Longhorns showed the world what they could be at their best. When Texas received the ball with just 1:18 seconds left in the half, down 35-17, Young also took the opportunity to answer some questions about his skills as a passer. The signal caller went 7-of-8 passing for 80 yards on that half-ending drive, capping it with a five-yard touchdown pass to Bo Scaife to kick off the rally.
Texas scored on six of its next seven drives, turning a first-half blowout into a decisive 56-35 victory at home.
That year ended in the first of two trips to the Rose Bowl after Texas snuck in with an at-large bid to take on the Michigan Wolverines. Down 31-21 to start the fourth quarter, Young and his teammates pulled off an unlikely comeback against a stingy Michigan defense, capped off by yet another Young rollout, this one to the left, to take a 35-34 lead and set up Dusty Mangum to write a part of his own legacy with a game-winning field goal.
Fast forward to the next season and the second-ranked Longhorns once again trailed unranked Oklahoma State 28-12 to start the third quarter, this time in Stillwater. On a pivotal 3rd and 11, Young, who struggled early in that game, rolled right, pump faked an OSU defender, and took the ball 81 yards for the score, sparking yet another comeback.
So by the time Texas made its second trip to the Rose Bowl, this type of comeback led by Young’s heroics was familiar for the Longhorn faithful.
One play in the national championship game, capping off an unlikely drive, set up by an unlikely defensive stop, catapulted Young from college football star to college football immortality when he converted the 4th and Goal. The former top-rated recruit from Madison High School turned his college football dreams into reality, rewriting the story of the disappointing end to his high school career.
In the fall of 2001, the Madison Marlins, led by Young, blistered through the 5A Division 2 playoff bracket, averaging 55 points per game in their march to the semifinals. For their trouble, they are matched up against another offensive juggernaut, Austin Westlake. The winner would go on and play for a state title against an unlikely Lufkin Panthers squad that made a name for themselves by knocking off giants like Euless Trinity, Dallas Carter, and Plano.
The matchup of the titans did not disappoint.
Young, in what could have been foreshadowing of his college career, trailed 28-14 at halftime, but managed to close the gap to one score in the fourth quarter. Madison took the field with less than five minutes to play and nearly the entire field to go in an attempt to do what they had done so many other times, put together a touchdown drive. However, on second down Young rolled right — something fans would come to know and love — and tried to find a receiver in the flat. Instead, he found Westlake defender Mark Fisher, who intercepted the ball and set up a Westlake touchdown to go up 49-35 with just two minutes left on the clock.
Young and the Marlins would not go gently into that good night, returning the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to set up a 12-yard touchdown run from the quarterback, but that was all she wrote for the Marlins.
The dynamic playmaker finished his senior season with 4,167 total yards and 53 touchdowns, capping off a three-year career that saw him inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame 15 years later.
Even now, nearly 20 years after rolling right to win the national championship, Young is still an inspiration and icon to quarterbacks in the state of Texas.
During the hotly-contested recruitment of Kyler Murray, who ended up committing to Texas A&M and playing at Oklahoma, who did the winningest quarterback in Texas High School football history have dinner with? Vince Young.
When Quinn Ewers committed to Texas for the first time, who was the point of comparison to his potential? Vince Young.
“Vince Young is someone I did watch as far as highlights and then my family loved Vince Young,” Alabama quarterback, and former Texas commit, Jalen Milroe said to the press Monday ahead of the marquee non-conference matchup “So growing up, I was a Vince Young fan. He was my first jersey that I bought. I love Vince Young.”
Milroe, born during Young’s freshman year at Texas, was an offensive stud himself for Katy Tompkins, just 40 minutes from Madison High School. In Milroe’s senior campaign with the Falcons, the Vince Young fan led them to an undefeated COVID-shortened 2020 regular season. In the playoffs, Tompkins also found themselves burning through their first two playoff matchups before falling at the hands of Galina Park, who then lost to eventual champion Austin Westlake.
Milroe finished his high school career as a top-100 recruit, No. 14 in the state overall, and the No. 2 quarterback in the state of Texas behind Ewers. He committed to Texas early and was pivotal to their 2021 recruiting class, seen as a leader in the group. However, the combination of the blockbuster commitment of Ewers (the highest-rated QB to commit to Texas since Young) and Mike Yurcich offering several other quarterbacks, Milroe flipped his commitment from his dream school to the Alabama Crimson Tide and ironically, Steve Sarkisian. The former Alabama offensive coordinator, and current Texas head coach, had nothing but praise for his former recruit ahead of the matchup.
“Jalen is a fantastic player,” Sarkisian said Monday. “He had a dynamic arm, he can make every throw in the book, off the platform or on the run; it doesn’t matter. He’s a tremendous runner — he’s an elite runner with the ball in his hand. With his speed and his physicality, he’s highly competitive. He’s a really good leader.”
While Sarkisian and recruiting coordinator Jeff Banks may be kicking themselves in hindsight, the Longhorns now have the challenge of scheming for a multi-tool quarterback.
Coming off of a five-touchdown performance against Middle Tennessee State, Milroe and the Crimson Tide are riding high and hoping to shut down a Texas team looking to reclaim the former glory they found under players like Vince Young.