Navigating the journey from Uncle Todd to Coach Bowles

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TAMPA — They have had these conversations before, the protégé and his mentor. Sometimes in the comfort of the living room, sometimes in the formality of a long-distance call.

They have talked of football, life and all the intersections between. It was never a daily thing, but the invitation remained open year upon year.

So what’s changed now?

Everything and nothing. For the first time, they are working together in the same building, on the same field, with the same goal in mind. The protégé is still aspiring, the mentor is still guiding.

Except now, out of necessity and propriety, the greetings have changed:

Uncle Todd has become Coach Bowles.

“That part,” Jordan Young says, “was a little odd.”

Young is an undrafted rookie linebacker out of Old Dominion with understandably long odds of making the active roster for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. He recognizes his best chance could be to impress on special teams, and he knows that a spot on the practice squad would be a victory of sorts.

That’s the kind of perspective you pick up when your father was a UPI All-Rookie selection for the Colts in 1985, and his college roommate went on to become head coach of the Jets and now the Bucs.

Anthony Young and Todd Bowles were in the secondary together at Temple University for head coach Bruce Arians in the 1980s, and remained close for decades to come.

Young was the more valued player coming out of college, getting taken in the third round in 1985 while Bowles went the undrafted route in 1986. Young’s career ended tragically with a spinal injury in his second preseason, while the unheralded Bowles went on to play eight seasons in the NFL.

“I’ve told this to Todd. I’ve said, ‘Jordan is you when you were (24).’ They are the spitting images of each other at that age,” Anthony Young said. “I see Todd in Jordan in the way he acts, the things he says. Personality-wise, they are pretty much the same guy. Go to bed early, get up and work.

“When Todd was coming out, his mentality was that he would give the NFL his best shot but he would not beat his head against the wall. He either made it, or he didn’t. He wasn’t going to hang around if it didn’t work out. That’s what I’ve tried to tell all my boys.”

That’s the sort of clear-eyed view of football that Jordan Young has gotten from his father and Bowles — and Arians, for that matter — as he’s plotted his life course. He was a starting quarterback in high school and had some minor college offers to play the position, but recognized his best chance to play professionally was on defense so he went to Old Dominion to learn to be a linebacker.

He got his undergraduate degree in 3 ½ years and could have left in 2020 when Old Dominion cancelled the season due to the pandemic, but opted for a second redshirt season and got his Master’s in sports management. He ended up leaving as the school’s all-time leading tackler.

So is there a whiff of nepotism for an undrafted college player from a smaller school to land on Tampa Bay’s roster in 2022? Who knows, and who cares? The assistant coaches jokingly refer to him as “the nephew” when they pass in the hallways, and he’s spent time at the Bowles house in Tampa this summer. But Young understands the harshness of this business will eventually prevail.

“You always hear people say this game can be taken away from you in an instant, and my dad lived through that,” said Young, whose two younger brothers play at Rutgers.

“I wouldn’t say he’s lived his dream through us, but I think he gets a lot of joy out of seeing the happy and positive results we’ve had. And he’s made sure that we understand the opportunities we’ve gotten and how that can help us in the future. I don’t take any of this for granted.”

It took Anthony Young a while to rediscover his footing after football was no longer an option. He spent 30 days in the hospital with infections after neck surgery, then wore a halo and neck braces for months afterward.

After Bowles began to establish himself as a starter at free safety in Washington, Young moved in with him in suburban Virginia and enjoyed the NFL life vicariously for a couple of years.

Eventually, he took a job with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to be nearer his future wife in Philadelphia but continued to visit Bowles and Arians annually during training camps. And while he encouraged Jordan to seek advice from his friends, it was always with the big picture in mind.

“I refused to let him talk about the NFL as a dream. I didn’t want the boys to pigeonhole themselves in an NFL-or-bust way,” Anthony Young said. “Because, for me, that was the reality. It was the NFL or the Army. I didn’t have a lot of options.

“I didn’t want my kids going to Career Day at school and saying it was their dream to play in the NFL. I wanted them to get degrees and have options.”

So what about now? What about the chances of making the Bucs roster in 2022?

“The deal we made was get your two degrees and then you can do whatever you want,” Anthony Young said. “Most guys talk about a degree being Plan B if football doesn’t work out? For Jordan, his degrees were Plan A, and the NFL was Plan B. So now, he’s got his chance at making Plan B work.”

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