Not long after Vince Young raised the Rose Bowl's most valuable player award in January, celebrating an effort in which he accounted for 372 yards and five touchdowns, he told his coach, in detail, how he planned to improve.
In Young's mind, the Rose Bowl victory and his other dramatic comeback triumphs late last season served as a prelude, not a culmination. Amid considerable Heisman Trophy hype and scores of autograph-seekers, the Texas quarterback spent this offseason honing his craft rather than dwelling on accolades.
"I think he will be," Coach Mack Brown said, "one of the great quarterbacks to ever play college football before he leaves Texas."
If doubt existed before, it is gone: The junior is the undisputed leader of the Longhorns, the nation's second-ranked team in the coaches' poll. If Texas winds up the national champion for the first time since 1970, and Young claims the Heisman, the school's first since Ricky Williams won it in 1998, Young's development over the past few months will be the prime reason.
As is customary in most programs, the quarterback organizes unofficial team workouts in the offseason, but Young, as offensive coordinator Greg Davis said, "took it to another level." All it took at times was a phone call by Young to teammates or a message Young scribbled on the team's grease board suggesting in blunt terms that players who wanted to win needed to be on the field at a certain time, on a specific day. Coaches were told player attendance was never higher.
"It comes with age," Young said of his improved confidence, "more years, more experience and more working with players on my team."
Young's talent has never been questioned since he became arguably the nation's top high school quarterback at Houston's Madison High in 2001. With a 17-2 record in two seasons as a starter at Texas, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Young last season became the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.
He orchestrated the biggest comeback in school history Nov. 6 when Texas rallied from a 35-7 halftime deficit to defeat Oklahoma State, 56-35. Young followed that by twice engineering comeback victories from 10-point fourth-quarter deficits, at Kansas on Nov. 13, then against Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Brown recalled a moment in the final 10 minutes of the Rose Bowl when he looked at Young and said, "You're going to be the hero again." Young was indeed, rushing for 192 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-37 victory. Over the season's final four games, Young completed 64 percent of his passes.
"You take the middle of last year to the bowl game," Davis said in a telephone interview, "he was probably as good as anyone in the country."
Critics, however, note he has thrown as many touchdown passes (18) as interceptions in his college career. Questions persist about his awkward three-quarters throwing motion and whether he would be better suited in the NFL at a different position, perhaps wide receiver.
In blunt fashion, Young vowed at last month's Big 12 media day that he is a quarterback "for life." He said he worked with NFL quarterbacks Steve McNair and Jeff Blake in the offseason, adding, "We worked on patience and getting back quicker" in the pocket. "A lot of guys want to change my release, but these guys did not mess with that."
Young pledged to wear an armband all season that bears the word "heart," fully cognizant that his actions and demeanor set an example for teammates. In fact, he criticized former Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner, during conference media day for hanging his head and displaying poor body language in the Sooners' 55-19 loss to Southern California in last season's Orange Bowl.
Other signs indicate Young's heightened focus. Once this summer, Brown called his quarterback on a Saturday night, a move Brown admits is not advised during the offseason because players likely are out having fun. "That's really dumb," Brown said, "of a coach to be that naive."
Young answered his phone, whispering.
"What are you doing?" Brown said.
"Watching the Oklahoma State game," Young said.
Who knows if the game actually was on the television screen, Brown conceded, but Young had the right idea.
"This," Brown said, "is now Vince Young's team."