By Jon Styf

James Young’s freshman football season at North Muskegon took a hit on October 8.

The 6-1 quarterback’s opening year of varsity football ended on the schools’ track at the end of a run play when he was driven out of bounds by a Ravenna defender. The result was a cleanly broken clavicle bone and a slightly separated AC joint in his shoulder.

North Muskegon’s James Young. Photo/Leo Valdez

The real break Young was hoping for started last December when he realized he might just have a chance of doing the unlikely, starting from the first snap of the varsity season as the Norsemen’s No. 1 signal caller.

It’s not so crazy, if you think about it.

It wasn’t so long ago that his oldest brother, Mack, spent three years as a North Muskegon quarterback before graduating in 2019.

Right now, his older brother Champ is North Muskegon’s captain and center, the one player who is guaranteed to touch the ball before James does every play.

And, going back further, his father Paul Young, took over as a sophomore starting quarterback for the Muskegon Big Reds in 1992. Paul’s first start was against Traverse City in their rivalry years of the LMAC (Lake Michigan Athletic Conference) while James made his first start for North Muskegon against traditional power Muskegon Catholic.

Paul is the Norse’ JV head Coach while Mack is the offensive coordinator for the same team.

Family support

No. 50 Champ Young during the Norse’ game against Ravenna. Photo/Leo Valdez

Knowing the opportunity ahead of him, James Young decided in December that he was going to give the opportunity everything that he had. At the time, he was 150 pounds. By July, he was 172 due to lifting, monitoring what he ate and a growth spurt.

Having the family support James needs has enabled him to put in time throughout the spring and summer with Mack, now the offensive coordinator for their father’s junior varsity team.

“Especially last year, we did a lot of stuff fixing (James’) throwing motion and getting him really reading defenses instead of flying by the seat of his pants,” Mack said who is the eldest of his siblings. “For him, I think it’s completely mental. He’s a ridiculously talented quarterback for a freshman but he’s also a freshman. He’s 15 years old.

“In middle school football, you don’t even really know how to read Cover 2, Cover 3, man, any of that stuff. So, it was mostly getting him acclimated to the mental aspect of it.”

North Muskegon JV Coach Paul Young stands with his oldest son Mack, Paul’s offensive coordinator for the JV squad. Photo/Leo Valdez

James said that the pair worked on shortening his throwing motion and pocket presence, along with working on how to watch film and learn from it. James talked about how every quarterback has a timer of how long he feels comfortable standing in the pocket before fleeing.

“My timer got a little longer and I started to complete passes and it all worked out,” James said.

“He taught me so much about watching film, how I can break it down. As small as he was, he knew a lot of things and he has so much experience playing at the varsity level. And he threw for 1,800 yards, so I knew I should definitely listen to him and he gave me really good advice.”

By the Oakridge game, Mack felt his youngest brother was playing like an 18-year-old. Playing behind Champ, an actual senior who leads the Norsemen on the line on both sides of the ball.

“It brings me a different level of alertness in the game because I know that he’s back there,” Champ said. “From the first game, he was super nervous and just wasn’t really ready for it. But I think that, even toward the end of that game, he started to catch on to the pace and it’s been cool to see him adapt to that. He’s got grown men running at him left and right, so it’s been cool to see him handle the pressure.”

While James wasn’t pleased with his first two performances, losses to Muskegon Catholic and Montague, after that he felt he hit his stride for the Norsemen (3-5, 3-4 WMC), leading his team to shutout wins over Shelby and Hart before falling to Whitehall.

Quarterback James Young gets ready for his brother Champ to hike the ball during the Norse’ game against Ravenna. Photo/Leo Valdez

Then, Young had maybe his best game to date, albeit in a loss, when he went 13-of-22 for three touchdowns against Oakridge, leading his team to the cusp of victory before a late Oakridge interception sealed the game.

“Coach (Larry Witham) got me tuned into things and we had a two-game win streak and then we went to Oakridge, we hadn’t beat them in a long time,” James said. “I ended up doing really well against them and I started to get really comfortable.”

James plans to be back healthy for the basketball season, where he’ll again have a chance to be teammates with Champ on the varsity squad. But, until then, he’s been going through practices and film with his North Muskegon teammates.

What does mom think?

When you talk to James’ mother Jill Young, she will tell you his decision to strive to be the starting QB of his school started a lot further back then December.

Middle son Champ Young, stands with parents Jill and Paul. Photo/Leo Valdez

“He’s (James) wanted to be quarterback for his school ever since he was 4 years old,” said Jill who joked about how she is just as obsessed with football as the rest of the family. “James is a real unique kid. He is focused and dedicated like a lot of kids are not.” 

Starting as a freshman QB isn’t the most ideal situation for any mother who watches their children play football. But like good parents tend to do, Jill recognizes and embraces faith and seeing what kids’ talents are on and off the field.

“Faith has played a big role in how we’ve raise our kids,” said Jill who met husband Paul at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN near her hometown of Chattanooga. “Our faith compels us to use what we have to try and make this world better for everyone and we hope that we’ve passed some of that along to them.” 

Jill, who is also the youth pastor at Bethany Church in downtown Muskegon, also sees the value of football to teach important lessons to kids.

Mack Young during his 2018 season as QB for the Norse. Photo/Leo Valdez

“Team sports, especially football, can help parents teach such valuable lessons about effort, and sportsmanship and what it means to be a good teammate,” said Jill, a proponent of teams sports and their family oriented values. “Kids learn what is best for the whole team, is not just what is best for yourself.” 

The future

While the are boys are leading the way for varsity sports in the Young household, there is still a future after the boys.

There is the youngest, littler sister Delaney, a seventh grader at North Muskegon. And from the sounds of it, she is just as competitive as her brothers. 

“She’s (Delaney) been trained since an infant and is a bruiser,” said Jill. “I catch myself yelling to her to be gentle (on the soccer field and basketball court). She loves football as much as the rest of us. We’ve trained her right.”

The Norsemen close the regular season hosting Ludington on Friday night. A win might put the Norse in favor of the new playoff point system and get them into the MHSAA playoffs.

Getting that win will be a challenge as North Muskegon is now on to its third-string QB, sophomore Ben Meyers.

Denny Belmonte had taken over duties for James against Ravenna but suffered a dislocated shoulder injury against Mason County Central last Friday.

However the season finishes for the Norse, the Young family’s involvement on the North Muskegon football field in 2021 will be one talked about around their family dinner table for many years to come.