With Saturday being the two-year anniversary of ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive and considering he is releasing a brand new book the very same day, former Florida Gators defensive lineman Jack Youngblood sat down with us recently for an exclusive and extensive hour-long interview about his life and career.
The first University of Florida student-athlete to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Youngblood is also a member of Florida’s Ring of Honor, the College Football Hall of Fame and the UF Athletic Hall of Fame. He has as accomplished of a career as any player who has put on the orange and blue of the Gators after being named first-team All-SEC and All-America in 1970 and also being selected as the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft.
Youngblood went on to be named to seven Pro Bowls and be selected as a first-team All-Pro five times while also winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1975-76) and the St. Louis Rams’ Most Value Player award three times (1975-76, 1979). He played in five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl and had his No. 85 retired by St. Louis prior to being inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 2001.
Since retiring for the game of football, Youngblood has done some acting work, served as an analyst with numerous media outlets, and co-hosted Wal-Mart’s Great Outdoors program, which used to air on ESPN on Saturday mornings. He also wrote a biography, has held a number of football administration jobs and continues to work to this day.
OGGOA’s three-part interview with Youngblood covers his college days and professional career while also highlighting some interesting stories and moments in his life.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Coming out of high school in Monticello, FL, you were a lot closer distance-wise to Florida State than Florida. Why did you end up choosing to play for the Gators and how did that recruiting process unfold for you?
JACK YOUNGBLOOD: “First of all, there was no recruiting process. [Laughing] That’s the crazy part about it. We were 25 miles from Tallahassee and we had a pretty good little football team back in 1966. We won the state championship. You would’ve thought we would’ve had some recruiting going on there. In all honesty, [there was] very little. I had no conscious idea that I was ever going to get an opportunity to play at the next level until Florida came up to me when we were celebrating after the championship game. They asked me if I wanted to come play football for the University of Florida.”
AS: Looking at recruiting as it stands today – with so many evaluation camps, services rating kids and tons of exposure – are you envious of how much attention high school players get or are you happy with how it used to work?
JY: “It’s a totally different world today. Our media contingent is just outrageous. You start tracking kids as they’re in 9th and 10th grade. [Laughing] I guess it’s because it is so expansive that you can do it today whereas in the past, it was a physical job literally.”
AS: Do you think there is a lot more pressure on high school kids these day with such high expectations at a young age? Perhaps they don’t get as much time to develop and become better players without scrutiny from the get-go?
JY: “It does put a tremendous amount of pressure on. A lot of them see an opportunity or think there is an opportunity where they can go and be like one of the ‘idols’ they watch on television and see play on Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t know if it’s going to get larger and larger as we move forward, but it probably will.”
AS: Coming out of high school, you were primarily an offensive lineman and linebacker. When Florida’s coaches wanted to move you to defensive line right away, what did you think about that? How difficult was the transition not only from high school to college but also from linebacker to defensive line?
JY: “First of all, it broke my heart when they told me that I was not going to be the middle linebacker. We had an All-American out of Tampa – Mike Kelly – Kelly was destined to be the middle linebacker. At 6’4” and 200 lbs. by my sophomore year, I had put on about 15 pounds, that’s a little gangly to be trying to play middle linebacker. They decided to put my hand on the ground and see what kind of skills I had there. It was a significant change, there was no question. The toughest part was having to put on muscle and strength so that I could play. I had some of the natural quickness and speed – I could run – but it was the size that was the hindrance. When you line up in front of Jim Yarbrough your first time on the practice field and you line up in front of him during a stand-up defensive end simulation. I got down in a two-point stance in front of Yarbrough and I still had to look up to him. [Laughing] That’s a scary thought.”
Read the rest of part one of our interview with Jack Youngblood…after the break!