PORTLAND - The Lake Oswego football team is learning a life lesson that will stay with the players long after the final quarter is played in Saturday’s State Championship game.
Coach Jeff Young was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease more than 25 years ago. Robbed of his ability to speak clearly, each week he uses a computer to compose a message to the team.
“These are powerful, powerful messages,” Head Coach Steve Coury said. “This has got to be the most ugly disease a person can have but you will never find him talk about self pity.”
Coury was introduced to Young by a mutual friend more than 10 years ago and was inspired by his perseverance.
Wanting his players to adopt that attitude, Coury invited Jeff to join his staff and write the weekly messages which are read by assistant coach Frank Everhart the Wednesday before each game.
In a recent message, Coach Young wrote of his struggle.
“As it turns out I’ve had to fight infinitely harder than I could have ever imagined ... life is hard ... success, harder.”
Young is a 1980 graduate of Lake Oswego High School where he played football. His words hit home with today’s players like quarterback Alex Matthews.
“Jeff has taught me to have a short memory," Matthews said. "If I make a mistake, throw a bad pass and miss my mark or throw an interception, I remember Jeff’s words and move on to lead the team.”
Composing the messages is a three-day process and Jeff rests all day when they’re delivered so he can be there to say just a few words.
His mother, Ladonna Young believes the work gives Jeff a reason to live, “it’s having a goal – that and a lot of love.”
Coach Coury’s teams have been to the state championship three of the past 11 years without a win.
Jeff’s reaction to the last loss has stayed with Coury.
“I’m in the locker room feeling bad and I see him coming around the corner in his wheelchair. I see tears rolling down his cheeks and I think what am I feeling so bad for? I’ve been motivated to try to do this for him ever since, so I hope it happens.”
Anyone who wants to send messages to Jeff can do so through his Web site, Friends of Jeff Young.