1. Archive

It's been long wait for a playoff spot

Published Oct. 22, 2008

After three decades at Gulf High School, including a stint as head coach, Jerry Young was done with coaching football. Had been for almost 10 years.

The only grass he wanted to be walking on was the stuff around the greens on his favorite golf course.

Then one day, in need of an experienced assistant coach to help him guide the Bucs to the promised land, head coach Jay Fulmer called.

And called.

And called again.

"I wore him down,'' said Fulmer, the Bucs head coach. "It wasn't easy. But I could just tell he was interested in it. I felt like deep down he wanted to come back; he was just trying to play it off."

Truth was, Young had an itch to scratch. In 33 years, he had touched more lives, coached more athletes, molded more men and women than just about anyone else, but he had never been to the football playoffs.

Until now.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Orlando, Young will get his playoff game when the Bucs take on Bishop Moore in the first round.

"This has been a dream of mine for 33 years,'' said Young, a Bucs institution who coached baseball for 20 years and was head football coach from 1978-81.

Young had all but given up on the idea of coaching in a playoff game.

The culture of losing - since the state playoffs began in 1963, Gulf barely had even sniffed an appearance - had infected the kids around him, and eventually drove him from the football coaching ranks in 1997.

The postseason wasn't even talked about at Gulf, and when the subject came up, Young heard mostly giggles.

Losing had become accepted.

"It beat me down,'' said Young, who became the girls golf coach. "At the time, I felt like I was taking the losing a lot harder than the kids were.''

Last year, two games into the season, Fulmer finally talked Young into attending a few practices.

"And I got hooked,'' he said. Now he coaches the wide receivers and special teams.

The rise of standouts like quarterback Alton Voss and wide receiver Shawn Williamson, coupled with Fulmer's arrival, had rejuvenated the Gulf football scene. The biggest difference Young saw was a team that believed in itself again.

"I think when we played and we were there, it was just expected that Gulf would never make the playoffs,'' said Don Fowler, a 1986 graduate who now teaches at Weightman Middle School. "That's why what they are doing right now is so special.''

Fowler still follows the team, attending a handful of games a year. He will be in Orlando tonight, sitting in the stands, wearing green.

His heart, though, will be with Young. One of Jerry's Kids, as many of those who have been coached by Young call themselves, Fowler was the first one to reach his former coach for a congratulatory hug after the Bucs beat Hudson to clinch the playoff spot two weeks ago.

"He's like a father figure to me, and a lot of former players can say that about him,'' Fowler said. "Just to see him be part of this makes it that much more special.''

Mark Cotney, one of the original Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Young's best friend, said helping Gulf finally reach the postseason might be the biggest athletic moment of Young's life.

In the mid 1970s, Cotney, who was Young's college roommate at Cameron State, would drive up with fellow Tampa Bay Bucs Curtis Jordan and Scot Brantley to watch their friend coach.

"I would think it's just a big monkey off his back,'' said Cotney, who still helps with the Gulf football team on occasion.

"He tried so hard to get that school to the playoffs. He poured 30-plus years of his life into it.''

Young has tried to shift the focus from him for tonight's game, but he is the embodiment of a true Gulf believer - long suffering but loyal, always with a shred of hope for a different outcome.

Fulmer has stressed repeatedly to his team the importance of making it to tonight's game, at every turn and in every interview dedicating the season to the hundreds of players who came before them.

And, of course, the one coach he had to talk into being a part of it.

"Football has been a big part of who Jerry Young has been,'' Cotney said.

"Jerry's been very emotional. From the emotion I hear in his voice, this means more to him than you or I or the people that read this article will ever know.''