Surrounded by a myriad of talent during his 13-year stretch with the 49ers, Young went from a blossoming understudy of Joe Montana to the leader of one of the most heralded Super Bowl champions in San Francisco.
So it is safe to say he knows a few things about the next generation of 49ers greats and what they need to do en route to a sixth Super Bowl crown.
This author was lucky enough to catch up with Young at a recent Van Heusen Institute of Style photo shoot, and the Hall of Famer was kind enough to offer some of his insights about his career, the development of current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and how the team's locker room can handle some of the recent off-the-field issues that have transpired this offseason.
Immaculately dressed for the interview, Young touched on some of the changes and challenges he has encountered, both on and off the field.
Now, as a "Professor of Style" for Van Heusen, Young can see the difference style can make. He hopes the Institute of Style and his "Achieve with Steve" campaign can help turn "schlubs" into something special.
Young admits he was not always well dressed during his professional career—an aspect also pointed out by his former teammate turned fellow Professor of Style, Jerry Rice, during the same photo shoot.
"We had a lot of fun playing together, and through the years we've had a lot of opportunities to do things off the field together," Young noted about his working relationship with Rice. "Now we do this together. My friendship with him has grown through the years, and that’s why I appreciate Van Heusen for holding us together. "
The ongoing partnership with Rice and their working chemistry together is nothing new to 49ers fans.
But in retrospect, one does not have to dive deep into 49ers lore to recall the challenges Young faced when he came to San Francisco in 1987.
"When you play quarterback in San Francisco, not much goes under the radar," Young commented. "I think the struggles, more than anything the mindset...rather than against somebody else or comparing someone else is one of the great accomplishments, because I was faced with it up front.
The debate over which quarterback—Montana or Young—was better still resonates today, yet Young never felt as if it were something that would drag him down.
Backing up then taking over for Montana would be no easy feat even for the best of quarterbacks. Yet Young relished the opportunity. He stated:
I learned how to turn that into a positive—to say how lucky I am that he’s here, how lucky I am to be in San Francisco, how lucky I am to have this opportunity to see how good I can get. I think that I could have been weighed down and crushed by the weight of it all and I flipped it on its head. One of my great accomplishments in my own personal life was being able to flip it on its head and turn it into something—a wonderful challenge that propelled me forward rather than held me back. To me, looking at my whole career, turning that and making that a kind of jet fuel rather than an anchor, changed everything.
The playing days of Young and Montana have long been cemented into the 49ers' history, and now a new budding-star quarterback finds himself at the helm of San Francisco's offense.
After completing his first full season as the 49ers' starting quarterback, Kaepernick stands on the brink of emerging as the next fabled man under center in San Francisco.
There is little doubt Kaepernick has the physical attributes that can change the course of a game. Yet Young was quick to shed some light on how Kaepernick can get even better.
"He’ll always have incredible speed and elusiveness," Young said of Kaepernick. "It will always help him do things that will mask the real job, which is delivering the ball from the pocket. A lot of guys don’t have that. He’ll always have that. That’s a positive."
Young suggested some of the things Kaepernick will need to do to reach that elite level, so coveted by the best NFL teams:
The fact is sooner or later, you have to become the CEO to orchestrate, not only the offense, but the whole organization. Elite—Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees—these are CEOs of organizations that have mastered how to do that job from the pocket.
So how exactly does a promising, young quarterback accomplish such a task? After all, the ability to move the ball, not just through the air, but from the ground is one of those elements that highlight Kaepernick's game.
Young's answer was pretty straight forward—Kaepernick has to put aside his rushing abilities and focus on what he can do to improve in the pocket.
It is a tough thing to do, Young admitted, but something he feels will ultimately better Kaepernick's game and fuel his career.
"I had the dynamic ability as well, but I couldn't become that CEO, that orchestrator, until I tied my legs up and learned the job," Young elaborated. "And that’s the challenge."
Young also emphasized the need for young players to rely more on hard work, rather than just dynamic playmaking abilities. Fortunately, Kaepernick's reputed work ethic is something that should serve him well as he continues his maturation process.
Time will be the ultimate judge on whether Kaepernick is capable of making that evolution.
On the other hand, time has not been kind to the 49ers this offseason.
Mired in a slew of off-the-field issues, the 2014 season cannot come soon enough for San Francisco in the wake of the negativity which has surrounded the franchise in recent months.
When Young was a frequent guest on the 49ers' flagship radio station KNBR 680, he would often speak of the "pillars of the locker room"—a group of leadership-minded players that would police what went on inside the clubhouse and even off the field.
Perhaps at no other time in recent 49ers' history should these leaders take action given the circumstances.
"The [49ers] are lucky they have one of the top-five locker rooms in the league," commented Young. "Because the stuff that’s going on is a distraction. These are grown men, and you can’t fake this. Luckily, you have this locker room full of character leaders that can withstand some of this stuff and they can figure it out."
If these issues eventually work themselves out as the 49ers work towards the 2014 season, it will be this core group inside the locker room, per Young. According to him, these players have the ability to do so, which will be important if San Francisco wants to remain as an elite team.
That locker room is going to be one that gives them the chance to do that. Everyone is wondering “what’s chipped away and what’s happened” and is this really a team that is elite. They’re going to have to reprove it. At some point, you don’t want to be the team that is always trying to prove everybody wrong. If you’re the elite team, you lead from above.
That may very well be the biggest challenge the 49ers face as they prepare for 2014.
Regardless, Young understands what it will take for the next phase of 49ers greats to succeed—work ethic.
"It’s truly putting the time in of work and that mindset and asking the questions later, rather than 'what’s in it for me, what do I get, how can I earn this' and then working," Young said.
For the 49ers, this advice may be the best of all. The team has the talent it needs in almost all the right places. Each franchise wants to win. The only question is how much the individuals on that team are willing to put in in order to accomplish the objective.
According to Young, it is old-fashioned and hard-nosed work that always gets the job done.
For more information on Van Heusen's Institute of Style, visit www.vanheusen.com.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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