Bo Scaife and Selvin Young missed out on greatness in the NFL, but together they helped each other start the rest of their lives.
Professional sports history is rife with players who didn’t know when to hang up the spikes, skates, or gloves. The list is long: Johnny Unitas threw wounded ducks for the Chargers and Willie Mays couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo as a Met in the early ’70s. A 51-year-old Gordie Howe laced up for the Hartford Whalers well past his prime. Mike Tyson was a tomato can in his final comeback attempt.
And those are the greats.
For former Longhorn football stars like Bo Scaife, BS ’04, and Selvin Young, BS ’08, players who are taken at the bottom of the draft, or in Young’s case, not at all, getting on the field is the first step in an uphill battle. Walking away before your knees are shredded and your brain is scattered, before you’ve even celebrated your 30th birthday, may be even tougher. For Young, that day came on Dec. 21, 2008. The Broncos were hosting the Buffalo Bills during a late-season playoff push. Young had just come back from a hip injury, and he didn’t quite feel right, but he felt pressure from the team to suit up. By that point in the season, the Broncos had lost five running backs to injury, so he was one of the last men standing. On that chilly Denver afternoon, they lost their sixth.
“Every time I think about it, it just creeps me out,” Young says, of taking the hit that ended his career. “That was the first time in my life I had ever been knocked out.”
Young finished the game—which the Broncos would lose—with a concussion and a herniated disc in his neck.
“I was sitting in the locker room after the game, and the [trainer is] hitting my leg, and nothing’s moving,” Young says. “And they’re whispering up top, and I’m like, ‘Hey man, you need to talk to me. Tell me what y’all doing over there.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, we think you have nerve damage.’”
Oddly, a wave of relief washed over him. “Cool,” he remembers thinking. “Now I can go and do something else with my life.” The Broncos cut Young the following spring, but his problems didn’t end there. Doctors couldn’t decide whether to operate or let his neck heal on his own, so he was left in limbo for more than a year. He took care of his hip first, flying to Denver for surgery. According to Young, that’s when he really hit a wall—until his college teammate Scaife lifted him up. Scaife is from Denver, so even though he was still playing for the Tennessee Titans, he lived in Colorado during the offseason.
“Bo was like, ‘You don’t have to stay in the mountains. You can stay in my crib,’ Selvin says. “So I stayed at his house and pretty much rehabbed to walk again for about four or five months.” The assist from Scaife was a key factor in Young’s recovery and according to him, his ongoing success. Ever since college, they’d been pushing each other, teasing each other mercilessly.
“[Bo Scaife] and I, it’s like a big brother relationship. I’m kind of motivated by him. We fall a little bit, and your brothers are there to pick you up.”
“We’d [say], ‘Go do something with yourself!’ So it was almost like, we were hard on each other, but for the good,” Young says. “We pushed ourselves to graduate. From the day that we walked onto that campus, it was kind of a thing.”
“He’s a little brother to me, for sure,” Scaife says. Unprompted, Young agrees. “He and I, it’s like a big brother relationship. To be out here running a business, I’m kind of motivated by him in a way. Young refers to teammates from his time at Texas like Scaife as “bean bags,” saying, “We fall a little bit, and your brothers are there to pick you up.”
One of the loudest cheerleaders in the men’s new lives is their old coach. “I’m so proud of what they’ve become,” Mack Brown says. “They were great players and terrific representatives of our program while they were here, had success in the NFL, and now they’re attacking the next chapter of their lives with that same passion and energy.”
Scaife played a few more years in the NFL, bouncing to Cincinnati to play with the Bengals, and then making a last stop in New England. During that time, Young moved back to Houston and wanted to get into the catering business. To get his feet wet, he crashed with former Longhorn teammate and then-Houston Texan Kasey Studdard and spent his days making burgers and tacos, and his nights shuffling from bar-to-bar, hawking greasy food to hungry drinkers. Eventually, he started a barbecue restaurant. One day, he headed out to the back of the restaurant, where a couple guys were building a food truck. He took mental notes, then asked his father, a sheet-metal mechanic and welder, to help him build one for himself. Around this time he was looking to sell the restaurant, and when he did, he sold the truck as well. It went for double the price of the materials, and, as he says, “a light went off.” Now Young’s company, Custom Food Truck Builders, has built almost 30 trucks, including putting the finishing touches on a crawfish trailer for Studdard.
“I’m building him a badass trailer,” Young says. “But he’s paying pretty much nothing for it. It’s just something I could do for what he did for me. Because when I moved back to Houston, I slept on his couch. I had nowhere to stay.”
He’s also made a point to help out in impoverished communities. When he found out that the Food Bank of Louisiana had a budget of only $60,000 for a mobile food truck, he built them a 40-foot trailer with a walk-in cooler—a six-figure-type job, by his estimation—for less than half of their budget. He’s currently working with the Food Bank of Houston as they enter the fundraising process. Young says he hopes to get to the point where he can afford to donate trucks outright to charitable organizations.
Scaife’s epiphany came in 2012, when, as a member of the New England Patriots, he found himself paying closer attention than ever to what the billionaire owner of the team had to say.
“I was listening to Bob Kraft speak to a big crowd of people, players and everything, and I’m just like, ‘Man, this is who created all of this. He created this whole organization—this big stadium, all these people who come watch this team, the Patriots.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s who I need to be. I want to be a creator,’” Scaife says.
The Patriots released Scaife before training camp, but the lesson from Kraft stuck with him. The veteran tight end had injured his neck the previous training camp in Cincinnati and missed the entire 2011 season rehabbing, only to be cast off in 2012. Inspired by Kraft’s success, and sick of feeling physically hurt, he retired and enrolled in the MBA program at George Washington University. Now focused solely on non-NFL endeavors, he came up with the idea for a clothing company called Fresh Ed—think hoodies, caps, and shorts in trendy colors splashed with the company’s motto, “Move With Purpose.” Scaife believes that education should be the cornerstone of everyone’s life, regardless of class or background, so he partnered with ACE Scholarships, and together they have funded six scholarships. ACE is branching out to Louisiana and Texas in the future, according to Scaife.
“You don’t even really get a chance to realize what you like besides football. It consumed everything … once you get done playing, you have to kind of rewire yourself.”
“We’re still reaching to break even,” Scaife says. “I wanted to give back from the start instead of waiting until I made profits.” The NFL made that possible for Scaife. He made $4.46 million in 2009 alone on a franchise-tag deal with the Titans.
Athletes often experience something called identity foreclosure after their pro career comes to an end. Players who make it all the way to the pros have typically spent more than a decade in the realm of sport and rarely have the chance to form an identity outside of athletics. The transition can be difficult, but Scaife and Young still push each other to succeed.
“You don’t even really get a chance to realize what you like besides football,” Scaife says. “It consumed everything … once you get done playing, you have to kind of rewire yourself.”
Young didn’t ever make it to a big NFL payday, but in a way, the adversity he faced, from growing up impoverished to debilitating injuries, pushed him to go back to school, to live a purposeful existence, to take what he wanted from life without waiting for a handout.
As the demand for his trucks has grown, Young recently opened a second shop. Scaife plans to expand his product line beyond apparel, and provide for an increasing number of scholarships each year. Despite the death of their original NFL dreams, neither Longhorn looks back with regret.
Could Scaife have been a serviceable tight end for another team? Sure. Could Young, who averaged five yards per rush in 201 carries during his brief NFL career, have rehabbed and caught on with a team in training camp? Maybe. But that doesn’t matter. What matters to them is not what could have been, but what can be.
“I saw something the other day. It said that only 25,000 people have ever played in the NFL. Period. Ever. And only 12,000 have played more than four years. So out of 7 billion people in this world, there are only 12,000 guys who have ever played more than four years,” Scaife says. “That’s a micro, micro, micro percentage. So I’ve already defied and defeated all types of odds … ” Scaife trails off as he gathers his thoughts. “I have the confidence that I’m going to be OK moving forward.”
Photos, from top: Michael Stravato, Hesh Hipp, Michael Stravato.
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