‘An invitation to go be great’: Here’s the advice Steve Young has for new BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis
As the Cougars prepare for a new season, the former BYU and NFL legend has a suggestion for their new QB
Before Kedon Slovis takes his first snap at BYU on Saturday night in the season opener against Sam Houston, NFL and College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young wants him to take a deep breath, look around LaVell Edwards Stadium and get good fast.
“I don’t want to burden somebody. The job is already really hard,” Young told the “Y’s Guys” podcast when asked what his advice would be. “I would want him to take in a sense of history and the success of the other quarterbacks before him, and in the spirit of, I don’t want it to be a pressure, I don’t want it to be an expectation, I want it to be an invitation to go be great.”
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Slovis transferred to BYU after watching former Cougar quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall thrive in Aaron Roderick’s offense before getting drafted into the NFL — a wise move, according to one of the program’s poster boys on how to do it.
“I think the last three or four years, the offense, and A-Rod and what he’s done and how he thinks about offense is how I feel about it. It’s how (49ers coach) Kyle Shanahan feels about offense and how (Chiefs coach) Andy Reid feels about offense,” Young said. “(Roderick) has an innovative mind. He is unafraid and obviously someone who can coach the position.”
Young had the luxury of studying Jim McMahon and being tutored by innovators LaVell Edwards at BYU and Bill Walsh at San Francisco. Slovis, who will throw his first pass for the Cougars 40 years after Young threw his last, inherits all the tools to be successful.
“I think we have the coach. We have the offensive philosophy. I think we have the offensive line, and we’ve got weapons,” Young said. “So, for him, go play the position and everyone plays it a little bit differently, but in the end, it’s ‘Can I get the ball out of my hand efficiently and effectively, and I’m not making stupid mistakes and not causing too much grief and then I can grow from there. I can learn as I get experience.’”
Young has traveled the road of which he speaks.
Young had the challenge of following McMahon at BYU. McMahon had just set 76 NCAA records and raised the judgement bar for a Cougar quarterback to a level Young knew he couldn’t reach — but he thrived on the challenge.
“Jim was a nutty guy, but he was technically perfect,” Young said. “I learned to play the position the way I played it by watching Jim McMahon. He was a technically perfect, drop, set and throw quarterback.”
McMahon led the Cougars to a 12-1 season in 1980 and followed it up with an 11-2 record in 1981. When 1982 rolled around, he was playing for the Chicago Bears and the BYU job was Young’s to keep or lose.
Getting good fast
The Cougars lost two of the first three games that season, including a 17-14 heartbreaker at No. 6 Georgia where Young threw six interceptions. The following week, BYU dropped a 39-38 shootout to Air Force in the first game of the expanded Cougar Stadium.
“I just needed to get my feet under me. I had a sense that I could really do something special if I could keep doing it. I had to get it together fast,” he said. “You can’t replace Jim McMahon and lose. You can’t throw an interception. You can’t throw a bad pass. Everybody who saw him play remembered him as perfect.”
Young knew his ability to run gave his arsenal a unique twist, but BYU was a passing program and he had to get better. So, he did.
“I loved the idea that I had to be perfect, even though I knew I couldn’t be,” he said. “But the expectation took me to a new level. For me, that is what I needed. I needed to always feel like, ‘You are doing great, but there is more. There is more.’ I loved that.”
Young got good fast and won 18 of BYU’s next 21 games.
“Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, myself, nobody was great. We all grew. We all matured, but we did it quickly,” he said. “So Kedon, it’s like, get in, play some ball, make some mistakes, and we don’t want to see them again, and get good fast. That’s just how we do it.”
Young put together a Super Bowl championship career that has his performance enshrined in the pro football, college football and BYU halls of fame.
Wilson (2021) and Hall (2023) are the first back-to-back Cougar quarterbacks selected in the NFL draft since Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer (1992) and John Walsh (1995). Slovis hopes to extend the trend to three next spring — something that hasn’t been done at BYU since the unprecedented run of six straight by Gary Sheide (1975), Gifford Nielsen (1978), Wilson (1980), McMahon (1982), Young (1984) and Robbie Bosco (1986).
With just one year in Provo for Slovis, time is short.
“I think that’s the position today for a quarterback in the NFL or a quarterback in college,” Young said. “You get trained, get some good help, get someone to call some great plays, be innovative and now — get good fast! Guys that have the mentality to do that can do it.”
This week marks 146 years since the death of Brigham Young, pioneer leader, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Young’s great-great-great grandfather. It’s a legacy that has been attached to nearly every Steve Young introduction throughout his life.
“I don’t think about (being a namesake) a lot,” he said. “I think, at the time, there were all kinds of challenges in getting — talk about a band of people just trying to survive, and then expanding and flourishing. And really, so much of the West was settled by those pioneers. I’m just grateful for the sacrifice of the people. He was the one who did it.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you he was not perfect. He is not a perfect person and in history we recognize there were foibles made, but we can appreciate all the things that happened that were amazing,” Young said. “I’m very grateful and I take that toughness and diligence and sense of sacrifice — I kind of feel a real sense of pride about that.”
Toughness, diligence and sacrifice also describe the way Young played football. On Saturday, the husband, father, former player and author will be watching with pride and anticipation as another new face takes his first snap at a school and for a program that bears the name of his great-great-great grandfather.
Slovis is also a benefactor of quarterback pioneers like Young where, amid his own imperfections, greatness happened. And now Young is extending the same invitation to him — an invitation to be great.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.