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Youngblood Right At Home In Florida
By JOEY JOHNSTON
Tampa Bay Online
Published: January 29, 2009
For Jack Youngblood - Super Bowl hero, Pro Football Hall of Famer and college All-American - the tiny Panhandle refuge of Monticello is more than his hometown.
It's a state of mind.
Youngblood, a ferocious defensive end who played 14 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, explored Hollywood's trappings. He tried some acting. He did commercials. He made radio and television appearances.
It wasn't for him.
In the end - after a football career that made him a celebrity - Youngblood never strayed far from his beginning.
"Last time I saw Jack, it was down at the co-op," said Van Collins, an old hunting buddy who manages property in Monticello. "Jack was buying some horse feed. Just standing there, blending in. He never waves his own flag.
"I caught his eye and laughed at him. 'Jackie, where you been?'"
Not far away.
"The homeland is awfully special to me," Youngblood said. "It's my identity, a genuine place. It helps me stay connected to my upbringing."
He now lives in Winter Park, where he is division president for an ethanol fuel company. But at every opportunity, he's back at his 300-acre ranch in Monticello. The locals remember when Youngblood's NFL buddies regularly visited for quail hunting, then some lights-out eating.
"When that crew came to town, you'd best stock up on your groceries," said James "Pot" Clark, 76, a longtime friend of the Youngblood family. "Some of those football players, they thought they'd died and gone to heaven.
"That gave Jack a lot of pride. His teammates got to see what he was all about."
Youngblood, 59, used to raise cattle until about seven years ago. "I was getting too old to be a cowboy," he said. Now he grows pine trees.
His precious corner of the world hasn't changed much in the past four decades. The county, a 2,700-resident sliver of land that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to Georgia's state line, still doesn't have a red light. It's about a half-hour east of Tallahassee, but it's a place that can be easy to miss.
Funny, but big-time football nearly missed on Jack Youngblood.
An Unexpected Career
In 1966 he was a 6-foot-3, 196-pound middle linebacker for Coach Brent Hall's Jefferson County Tigers. Nobody wanted Youngblood. An assistant coach for Florida State University, his dream school, left at halftime of a game, declaring that Youngblood never would play college football because he was "too skinny" and "did too much arm-tackling."
It hardly mattered that Jefferson County improved from a 5-5 team to a snarling defense-first unit that was stalking an improbable state title. Youngblood, in his mind, was down to his final football game. In fact, he already had enrolled at North Florida Community College. He planned on getting a job, then working his way through school.
But on the night Jefferson County won its state championship - a night the old-timers will still bring up over soft drinks and cheese crackers down at the country club - the Florida Gators sent a scout to watch him.
UF baseball coach Dave Fuller was deputized by Ray Graves to make an offer.
"He said, 'Would you like to play for the University of Florida?'" Youngblood said. "I said, 'Well, hmmm, let me think about that one.'
"Are you kidding? I couldn't say 'yes' fast enough."
Even after a brilliant college career, Youngblood still wasn't convinced he had an NFL future. As he secured a UF finance degree, Youngblood accepted a job at an Atlanta bank.
Then came the word.
He had been drafted by the Rams - in the first round.
"I think the whole football thing has been a godsend, a blessing," said Youngblood, who beefed up to 250 pounds in his pro career. "To get an offer from Florida, after being ignored by everyone, it was just astonishing.
"Then the Rams? I didn't even follow pro football that much. It was something on television on Sunday. It was a fantasy, not even a meaningful aspect of life to me. I guess I was just too practical, thinking about getting work, not playing a game. That was just my mind-set. Kind of crazy, huh?"
Not when you consider the place that Youngblood still holds dear.
His given name is Herbert Jackson Youngblood III. His grandfather, a no-nonsense man, was sheriff of Nassau County. And his father, who moved the family from Jacksonville to Monticello when young Jack was 7, ran a service station.
There are still great memories - hanging out at the gas station with his father, raising bird dogs, hunting quail - just not enough of them. Youngblood was only 10 when his father died and he felt a sense of duty to be a man before his time, to protect his mother and two sisters, to approach life with dedication.
Even in football.
Especially in football.
"Jack wasn't a mean player, but he was intense," said Tom Walker, a cattle farmer who played running back on Jefferson County's state title team. "He'd get after you. What you saw with the Rams, that was Jack in high school. He was go, go, go."
He was full of spirit - on and off the field.
"We had a rule: When you got on the bus, you better have a white shirt and a tie," said Hall, 70, a retired prep football icon who counts Youngblood and Scot Brantley (Ocala Forest) as the best players he ever coached. "So Jack shows up with a T-shirt. I say, 'Jackie, you ain't going.' He's got a grin on his face. He's testing me.
"We're cranking the bus up in five minutes. So he comes back out of nowhere, wearing a white shirt, straightening his tie. He's all of 16, full of fire and vinegar, putting me to the test. You had to keep him in line. But once he knew the score, and what he had to do, you had one hellacious football player."
A player who never strayed far from his roots.
"Jack had the bright lights and all, but he never gave up Monticello," said Lynn Patrick, Youngblood's sister who lives in Clermont. "That's where his heart is. He likes to tinker, being around a farm, being outdoors. He knows who he is."
"He's the same person he always was," Walker said. "No matter where he'd been or what he'd done, when Jack came home, he was the same guy as high school."
Sometimes, when Youngblood returns to his ranch, maybe mowing the grass or fixing things up, the labor seems relaxing. Sometimes, he'll sit by the fire or visit with some folks and be perfectly content.
"It's really good to be around people you've known your whole life," Youngblood said. "They can take you for what you are and who you are."
A hometown hero.
And one hellacious football player.
-01-31-2009 #2jkramsfan Guest
Re: Youngblood Right At Home In Florida
great story, he will always be my favorite player,was just awesome to watch.
Re: Youngblood Right At Home In Florida
Thanks RAD. Great to read about my all time great Rams player.
Re: Youngblood Right At Home In Floridagreat story, he will always be my favorite player,was just awesome to watch.Clannie Nominee for ClanRam's Thickest Poster
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