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Prep Football: Remembering Scott Young, who raised the bar in Rowan County

 By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

MOUNT ULLA — Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Chris Smith, who had two sacks on Sunday, tried to focus at Wednesday’s practice, but his mind was 450 miles away in Rowan County.

Former West Rowan High coach Scott Young — husband, father, coach, father figure, friend and mentor — died early Wednesday morning at age 45.  Young’s passing impacted everyone who has ever cared about football in Rowan County.

The football stadium lights stirred to life and illuminated the night sky not just at West, but at every high school in the county at 7:30 last night (that’s kickoff time) because Young touched every player and every coach. Even if they never met him, he raised the bar for all of them.

Young was the Associated Press Coach of the Year for North Carolina high school football in 2010. Head coach at West Rowan for 17 seasons, Young’s teams won three 3A state titles and nine conference championships (including eight in a row from 2004-11). Young is No. 2 on Rowan’s all-time wins list with a record of 172-54. S.W. “Prof” Lancaster won 183 games at J.C.Price in a 30-year tenure.

Smith wouldn’t be in the NFL if not for Young. Certain that his game was basketball, Smith didn’t play football at all his freshman year at West, but Young was a persistent salesman who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“He’d call my house every other weekend,” Smith said. “He kept telling me that my calling was football and that I could get an $85,000 scholarship to play football. Finally, I gave in. I told him I’d play for him my sophomore year, and I did.”

Smith became one of the finest defensive ends in Rowan County history, a Shrine Bowl MVP and a cornerstone of the first two of Young’s three consecutive state-title teams. He got that scholarship to the University of Arkansas. Now he’s in his fourth year in the NFL.

“I’m paying my bills today because of Coach Young,” Smith said. “I was just speaking to K.P. (West’s great running back Kevin Parks) and we were talking about what an inspiration Coach Young was. He was an inspiration to everybody. He didn’t just lead us, he got all of us to do things the right way.”

Young loved the Oakland Raiders because his mother bought him an Raiders jacket when he was a youngster, and he was enamored with the legend of Bear Bryant and Alabama’s Crimson Tide. He loved the West Rowan Falcons more and, above all, he loved his family. Scott and his wife Dianne saw a lot of ballgames played by his sons, Bryant and Brody, and his daughter, Ally.

“Our profession lost a great man, a man that did things the right way and cared about his kids,” said Young’s long-time adversary, Joe Pinyan, who fought Young’s teams as the head man at Salisbury, and then at Carson. “His family lost a great husband and a great father, and personally, I lost a great friend.  We had our battles across the field from each other over the years, but we always had respect for each other and what we were trying to do for our kids and our programs.”

Young began his football ascent as a decent lineman at East Rowan High, modestly talented but smart and tough, a student of the game. He played college ball at Guilford before finishing his degree work at Catawba. Then he got his first chance to be part of a high school coaching staff at Davie County.

“The one thing that stands out to me about Scott is that no one loved his family and no one loved the game of football like he did,” said Chip Hester, a former Catawba head coach and a teammate of Young’s at Guilford. “He became a legendary coach in high school football. I’m not sure West Rowan was up to par when he took over. He took them to a whole new level.”

Young learned a style of football at Davie that didn’t include frills. Be physical. Run the ball. Play great defense. Don’t turn it over. Finish every offensive possession with a kick, either a PAT or a punt.

Henry Kluttz was the principal at West in 1998. He gave Young a chance to be a  head coach when he was 26 years old. West had little to lose. The Falcons had been good in 1967 and exciting in 1994, but mostly the Falcons had lost often. West’s 13 head coaches before Young was hired were a combined 147-240. The school had won two playoff games in its history and owned zero conference championships.

Young’s first season, in 1998, the upgrades were subtle. West went 3-8. The Falcons still took beatings in the South Piedmont Conference from bullies A.L. Brown and Concord.

Young’s second season, West went 8-3. The Falcons didn’t make the playoffs, but respect was earned. The loss to A.L. Brown was 21-7. The loss to Concord was 21-16. Young was named Rowan County Coach of the Year. It was an honor he would win or share nine times between 1999 and 2011.

West’s talent level was transforming. Even Scooter Sherrill, one of the nation’s most heralded hoopsters, wanted to compete in football for Young.

“West was always a basketball school,” West boys basketball coach Mike Gurley said. “But as Scott’s tenure took hold it became a basketball school and a football school. We clashed some in those early days, two aggressive Alpha dogs going at it. But we reached a mutual understanding. What both of us wanted most was success for our kids and success for our school. Scott worked so hard to make his team better that he motivated me to be better. I really admired his teams. He was one heck of a football coach, and his team was always prepared.”

Young made it cool to play football for the Falcons, and in 2000, the world turned upside down. West beat A.L. Brown and Concord back-to-back, grabbed the SPC championship and hung a football banner for the first time since the school opened in 1959.

“Coach Young was a game-changer,” said North Rowan head coach Ben Hampton, who was a hard-charging tailback for Young in 2000. “When I got to West, I was completely focused on baseball. By the time I left West, I was going to Coastal Carolina on a full football scholarship. He built a perennial power at a rural 3A school, in Mount Ulla, of all places. His gift was he was able to make kids believe they could win if they all pulled together and did things the right way. He took a bunch of regular kids and he made them believe they were invincible on the football field.”

In 2001, West would set sail on a mind-boggling spree of county domination. West wouldn’t lose to another Rowan opponent until East Rowan knocked off the Falcons, 11 seasons later, in 2012. By then, the Falcons had taken 44 straight against county foes.  There were fierce struggles in that stretch because everyone was striving mightily to catch up to West. In 2010, Salisbury won the 2AA state championship, North Rowan won its conference, and Carson won 10 games. Still, West withstood all challenges.

“Our 14-7 loss to West at Salisbury in 2009 was one of the most physical and well-played games I’ve ever been a part of — a real ‘slobber-knocker,'” Pinyan said. “We finally beat him my first year at Carson, but I still consider that 14-7 game a classic.”

From 2001-03, West was only pretty good. But West shared a league title in 2004.  In 2005, Young put together a powerful machine fueled by tailback Wade Moore. The Falcons won their first 13 games, a feat that had only been accomplished previously in the county by East Rowan. The Mustangs went 13-0 in the WNCHSAA days in 1969.

“Coach Young was really good at bringing together guys from all sorts of different backgrounds,” said Zeb Link, who intercepted eight passes for the 2005 West squad as the free safety. “We were all brothers on the field, fighting together for a common goal. I believe he was just that ultimate coach as far as uniting a team. We bled together, fought together, cried together, and we did it all for Coach Young. You knew he was always going to hold up his end, and none of the players wanted to let him down.”

West’s 2005 dream season ended in Game 14, crumbling under an A.L.Brown buzz-saw in Round 3 of the state playoffs, but the Falcons had taken another step forward. They were inching closer to a state title.

“It’s like Henry Kluttz told Scott and me,” Gurley said. “If you keep knocking on that door, you’re going to get knocked down some, but eventually you will knock that door down. And a few years after that, Scott’s teams tore that door right off the hinges.”

In 2006, Young had enlisted a freshman running back (Parks) who would become a national phenom.

West won North Piedmont Conference titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and in 2008, they finally kicked the door down. They went 15-1, winning their last 14 in a row and swamping West Craven, 35-7, in the 3A championship game.

Young’s detractors said he couldn’t win a big one, but the Falcons put that myth to rest in 2008 with an epic third-round win in Mount Ulla against Winston-Salem Carver. The Falcons roared from behind. Jon Crucitti’s touchdown pass to Brantley Horton off a reverse was one of the more creative play calls of all-time and got West back in it. Austin Greenwood’s frantic and furious run with a faked punt won it, and the Falcons had leaped over another hurdle. After that comeback and the destruction of  South Point’s option offense by coordinator David Hunt’s defense in the Western final, the state championship game was anti-climactic.

West would do it all over again in 2009, 16-0, arguably the greatest season in county history.

“The perfect storm of a great head coach, a great coaching staff and great players,” Gurley said. “But perfect storms don’t just happen. You have to find that perfect storm and Scott had done the work, the preparation and the team-building that allowed him to find it.”

In 2010, even after Parks, Smith and Crucitti had diplomas, the Falcons went 16-0 again behind QB B.J. Sherrill. West’s winning streak had reached a numbing 46 games and was the longest active streak in the nation.

“Scott was the true definition of a leader for those great teams,” said Joe Nixon, West’s current head coach and a key assistant on Young’s finest squads. “The man won a whole lot of football games and he had to be one of the best ever in Rowan County. But  there was a lot more to him than winning games. He was always a great friend, a great daddy, a great husband. That’s what mattered the most to him.”

Then came the 2011 season. That was Young’s best coaching job. That was a West team with obvious flaws and limitations, a West team that got whipped on opening night by Mooresville to end that long winning streak. But still, the Falcons pushed on. A goal-line stand beat Concord. Then West stunned everyone by crushing favored Burns on the road in the Western final.

Through sheer force of will, the Falcons reached the 3A championship game for the fourth straight time. They lost this one, but getting there was a triumph for everyone involved.

It was on the night of October 24, 2011, that Young had his first heart attack. He felt chest pains and drove himself to the hospital. Four days later, he was helping coach the Falcons from the West Iredell press box, but he would never be quite the same. It would be fourth-and-long every day after that.

Young would coach the Falcons to a 10-3 record in 2012, but West was only 6-6 in 2013 and 8-5 in 2014.

Young had serious heart issues in 2015 and resigned as West’s head coach in April. His goal was to get healthy and to see his children grow up. To do that, he would need a new heart.

In early May, 2016, while he awaiting a new heart, Young was a surprise head-coaching hire by Independence High School in Charlotte. He had heart transplant surgery on May 16 and spent 49 days in the hospital.

“He faced the adversity with his condition straight on and never backed down,” Pinyan said.

He was terminated by Independence in August, 2016.

Young immediately landed on his feet at Statesville High as a volunteer assistant coach. Bryant shared quarterback duties for the Greyhounds.

This season, as a senior, Bryant blossomed into a standout. Scott beamed with pride as he watched his son grow, but his health was failing.

Three of Bryant’s best games were against East Rowan, Carson and West Rowan to close this regular season. That emotional win against West in Mount Ulla was perhaps the finest performance of Bryant’s career — 21-for-31, 318 yards, four TDs.

After that game, Bryant told the Post: “A lot of that was for him. He’s given me everything I’ve needed to further my career. He’s a great man and a great coach.”

Statesville’s season ended a week later with a lopsided loss at Southwest Guilford in the first round of the 3AA playoffs, but Scott was right there through the final game of his son’s career.

The coach would lose his last struggle on Wednesday morning. He died of complications from the heart transplant.

Young was 8-1 against Carson, 13-3 against East Rowan, 15-2 against South Rowan, 13-0 against Salisbury and 10-2 against North Rowan. That’s a 59-8 record in intra-county games.

 Gurley will never forget the person who made those numbers possible.

“As long as I’m around West Rowan, I’m going to make sure every student knows who Scott Young was and what he did for our school,” Gurley said. “He changed the lives of so many.”

A celebration of life/memorial service for Young will be held on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the West Rowan stadium.

Sports editor Dennis Davidson contributed to this article.

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