This evening or Saturday -- depending on the luck of this morning's draw -- John Young, former football star at McKinley Tech and currently the best club boxer at Lehigh University, will fight in the first round of the National College Boxing Association championships at the University of Nevada-Reno. In the process, he will refer to his favorite ring axiom:
"Do anything -- anything -- to keep from getting hit."
It's a variation of the old best-defense-is-a-good-offense scheme. Hardly the macho blustering the script requires from a 190-pound former heavyweight whose coach calls him "possibly the best in his weight class in the country."
But Young hardly fits the normal psychological profile of the boxer who rose from the gutter with his fists. He grade and one in seventh. He lost both. He didn't try on a pair of boxing gloves until his sophomore year at Lehigh.
His overwhelming desire to keep himself unmarked stems from a logical source -- the one time in three years of fighting that John Young got tagged. Only once. But it stung. Once was more than enough.
It was in the finals of the Eastern College Boxing Association championships last year in a fight he eventually won to gain his first trip to the nationals, in Colorado Springs last April.
"His name was Damien Roberts, from Lock Haven. Middle of the second round. He hit me square on. For a second, it went dark in my head. Like blank.I went onto the ropes. My buddies said that my knees buckled, but I don't remember. All I remember was I had to put all my forces together to get my composure back."
He lasted the round and won the next one. He hasn't been hit hard since -- his loss in the nationals last year was a close decision and he wasn't hurt. That one second of the void is enough to make him want to stay unmarked from here on.
"People keep running around trying to hit me, so I figure the only way to stop them is to hit them first."
It's a flip philosophy from a young man whose serious streak runs right below the surface. Lehigh's 190-pound hope for its first national champion boxer since Danny O'brien in 1977 arrived at the ring via a skewed trip through the college atheltic ranks, a career that started with a football dream that faded after his freshman year at Lehigh.
Now he calls it all a "contractual dispute with the coaching staff." He arrived with good advance notices; captain at McKinley, a 4.6 40-yard dash.After a good freshman year starting on the junior varsity team and an outstanding spring camp, he says he was told he would return the next fall as the fourth-string fullback. He felt that he wasn't being given his rightful shot. So the next fall didn't return. He studied. And occasionally worked out.
"They said, 'Go home, work hard, come back and be ready to play jayvee.' Well, jayvee wasn't good enough. I wouldn't want to name one coach or anything. It just didn't work with the program. There was one assistant coach who left after my freshman year, and I think that had something to do with it."
Well, what happens is that a lot of kids, they do the evaluating," said Lehigh football Coach John Whitehead, "instead of the coaches. As I recall, it was a case of a transition in the staff. He never spoke to me about it. He also had a fourth-year fullback ahead of him. He had a very tough road to hoe. I think he's a nice young individual, and a good boxer."
"I don't think there was any bitterness," said William Quay, dean of students and the boxing club's advisor and coach. "He too positive a person." s
"The choice to quit football was the hardest decision I've ever made, but my life is more important to me than someone's football program. I figured I was there for school, anyway, I mean, Lehigh's not exactly a football factory. So I just concentrated on working. Then on day a friend named Collin Green, we were fooling around, you know, how friends say 'I could ship you.' Well, he said he'd take me down to the gym and whip me. I went along.
"Well, he was around 145, and I was up around 190, and he was the best intramural fighter at the college. He hit me a few times, and I hit him. And when we were finished he said, 'You know, you weren't supposed to hit mr. You ought to go out.' So I fought some intramural, and I did well."
"He won the intramural championships," said Quay, "and I talked him into coming out for the clubs. His footwork is fantastic. He has the footwork and speed of a 160-pound boxer. I think he'll win it."
In three years of club boxing -- there's no varsity team, but they have regular dual meets during the season -- Young is 11-1. His sophomore year as a heavyweight he went 5-0 but didn't box in the nationals; he weighed 192. The next year he fought at 190 and went 3-0 until the nationals loss. This years he's 3-0.
This year, there are only three fighters in the 190-pound class, and Young may draw a bye into the final Saturday.
"I think it was a mental problem last year. I didn't fight my fight -- the old cliche. But I do well, I'll be the next champion. That would make me very happy. I don't like to lose. And I hate getting hit."