ATHERTON, Calif. — The freshman runs a hitch-and-go for Menlo College on a play known as “X train.”

That is Laila Younger’s first flag soccer sport, however she seems to be like she performed in a earlier life, transferring so easily and decisively. Her sister, Summer time, a senior, can also be a pure, overlaying massive chunks of turf with lengthy strides.

Laila performs the X place — “I tell her she’s John Taylor, the most underappreciated athlete in history,” her father says. Summer time is the Z — “Jerry Rice’s position,” Dad says.

The route Laila runs is an efficient one, however she has to return again for an underthrown move. The ball hits her arms and falls to the floor. The play ought to have been a landing and Menlo ought to have received. As an alternative, it loses to Sacred Coronary heart 2-0 on a security.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more forlorn group of people,” Laila’s father says.

Fathers are sometimes seemed to for perspective, which is the case now. However Laila’s dad is greater than Dad. He’s an assistant coach for Menlo. And he’s a two-time NFL MVP, a Tremendous Bowl MVP and first poll Corridor of Famer.

So father places his arm round daughter and tells a narrative, the sort he normally wouldn’t inform his kids with out prompting.

“It was 1991, and we were in the L.A. Coliseum playing the Raiders,” Steve Younger begins.

The 49ers went 14-2 in every of the earlier two seasons. Joe Montana, their quarterback, was legendary in 49ers lore by then. However throughout the 1991 preseason, Montana, the reigning MVP, injured his elbow, forcing Younger into the lineup. Then they started the season 2-2.

“The 49ers needed to win this game,” Younger continued, “but I needed to win this game — me. We trailed 12-6 and we were driving to win. Time was running out. It was fourth-and-7 on the Raider 19. I was running around trying to find somebody to throw the football to and Jerry was open in the end zone, almost like waving his arms. But I didn’t see him until I watched the tape the next day. I threw an incompletion. We lost.”

It was, Younger remembers, one in every of the most bitter emotions of his life.

“The regret you are feeling, Laila, is the same kind of regret I was feeling at the Coliseum,” he tells his daughter. “Part of the reason you go out there is to learn from that, to find a way to make it a positive. There is great potential in not catching that pass. You have to find it.”

This is a chance for Laila.

And it’s a possibility for Steve.

Nevertheless it’s not simply any alternative.

Teaching this workforce, in his thoughts, is a sacred calling.

After the loss to the Raiders that Steve informed Laila about, unstable 49ers defensive finish Charles Haley raged at Younger in the locker room, blaming and threatening. He put his fist by means of a glass door and wouldn’t settle down till former 49er Ronnie Lott, who had joined the Raiders as a free agent, was summoned to mollify him.

A Montana loyalist, Haley had bullied Younger for years by then, a lot in order that Younger usually requested workforce workers the place Haley was so he may attempt to keep away from him, even when it meant skipping therapy he wanted in the coach’s room.

In 1987, Younger agreed to be traded to the 49ers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the concept — promoted by 49ers coach Invoice Walsh — that Montana won’t play once more due to again issues. However Montana’s again was sturdy sufficient to hold a workforce on it, and Montana did so in the 1988 and 1989 seasons, main the 49ers to his third and fourth Tremendous Bowl victories.

By then, everyone was satisfied Younger would by no means be Montana, and Younger was reminded of it advert nauseam by hostile followers and venomous commentators. The San Francisco Chronicle revealed an op-ed with the headline “The Gulf War: It’s Steve Young’s Fault.”

For 4 years, Younger was second string. In one in every of the years, he was so disenchanted he refused to money paychecks for a complete season — $4 million value — till the workforce talked him into it after the season ended.

As the circumstances would have it, the Montana relationship was skilled however prickly. Even olive branches had thorns. When Montana invited Younger for Christmas dinner, one in every of Montana’s younger kids interrupted and requested, “Dad, is this the guy we hate?”

Rice by no means expressed animosity, however his choice for Montana was clear. He was uncomfortable with the backward spin on Younger’s throws (Younger is a lefty; Montana a righty) and uneasy about Younger’s disregard for staying in the pocket.

Somebody who cherished the sport much less would have been crushed by the strain. Younger responded with exuberance. When Rice ran a reverse towards the Chicago Bears in 1987, Younger blocked defensive lineman Dan Hampton as if he have been a monster truck. Teammates known as him “Crash” after that.

Fearless and quick, Younger ushered in a brand new period of working quarterbacks. However like most younger passers blessed with velocity, he was too fast to tuck and run. His coaches challenged him to study to win from the pocket. It was one he embraced.

The climb was grueling, although. Younger skilled anxiousness and discovered pleasure elusive. On the evening earlier than dwelling video games, he watched from the workforce lodge as planes took off from the airport, wishing he have been on one in every of them. And the next morning, he didn’t wish to get off the bed.

After that loss to the Raiders, Younger flew to Salt Lake Metropolis to spend a day along with his brother Mike. As he took a seat on the airplane again to San Francisco, he questioned if he may make it by means of the season. Next to him was Stephen Covey, writer of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Younger bared his soul to Covey, telling him he wished he have been a golfer or tennis participant with out teammates to concern himself with. Younger writes about it in his inspirational ebook, “The Law of Love.”

Covey made him take into consideration how 49ers proprietor Eddie DeBartolo noticed gamers as companions, how Walsh checked out gamers holistically, how offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren understood quarterbacks like few others and how Montana set an instance to observe. “I don’t know of anyone that I’ve ever met, anywhere in the world, who is in a better place with a better platform to go see how good he can be,” Covey informed him.

On that airplane experience, Younger’s outlook modified.

Finally, the 49ers traded Haley and Montana. The remainder of the gamers who have been invested in Montana moved on. The 49ers grew to become Younger’s workforce. He received every little thing a quarterback can win and transitioned from runner/thrower to passer — pure passer — higher than anybody ever, main the NFL in passer score six out of seven seasons.

Bear in mind the nice potential in failure that he informed Laila about? This was it.

Haley continued to torment Younger as a member of the Cowboys, nevertheless it was completely different coming from an opponent.

Throughout the 1998 season, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci introduced up the concept of bringing again Haley. He requested his participant leaders who was in favor of signing the free agent.

Younger was the first to boost his hand.

Nowadays, Younger seems to be ahead to seeing Montana. He and Rice reside close to each other and are nearer than ever. Rice incessantly offers of himself to the Endlessly Younger Basis, the charity Steve and his spouse, Barb, oversee.

Younger’s soccer journey is well known with a hoop almost the measurement of a golf ball, nevertheless it was about a lot extra. It was about reconciliation and resourcefulness, subjugation of self and survival, willpower and vindication.

So when he lastly retired in 2000 after 17 seasons {of professional} soccer, Steve Younger had a lot to share.

Quarterbacks whose careers go on and on normally have an identical look. Their faces are longer and thinner, with grey stubble extra usually seen beneath exhausting hats than soccer helmets. On their foreheads are deep creases from carrying the hopes of groups and cities. Round their eyes, darkish weariness.

Younger by no means seemed that approach. At 61, he nonetheless doesn’t.

His pores and skin is clean; his blue eyes clear. He wears his hair in a tousled, boyish type.

Clear residing helps. A Mormon — Younger is the nice, nice, great-grandson of Brigham Younger — he doesn’t drink alcohol or caffeine. He takes a four-mile jog just a few instances per week and even sprints some. Each evening earlier than he turns in, he spends an hour on mobility.

He usually stretches in public locations, which will get eye-rolls from his children.

“Dad, this is fricking embarrassing. Why do you have to stretch everywhere? It’s weird.”

Throughout Menlo’s warmup earlier than follow, Younger strikes fluidly as he does carioca workouts along with his gamers.

You by no means would guess that in his soccer days, he had a herniated disk, torn groin muscle, a knee harm that tore 4 ligaments and a meniscus, a compressed peroneal nerve that minimize off sensation to his leg, neck sprains, damaged ribs and a torn shoulder labrum. Oh, and someplace close to 10 concussions, together with one which successfully ended his profession.

Inexplicably, none of his joints damage.

He inexplicably has prevented any post-career surgical procedures.

He has no cognitive points, inexplicably.

At one level, Younger was the face of concussions; now, his recall is about as exact as his throws have been.

Anxiousness is only a reminiscence.

“Something happens when you play in front of 80,000 people for 18 years,” he says. “I think you get it burned out of you a little bit in a good way.”

In 2007, Younger cofounded HGGC, a personal fairness agency. Younger, the chairman of the firm that manages $6.9 billion in investments, seems to be out his Palo Alto workplace window and factors to a palm tree. It’s about three soccer fields away. It’s in the yard of his dwelling.

That dwelling — not the workplace — is the heart of Younger’s world now. He goes again and forth from workplace to dwelling all day. “If my wife needs something — anything, it’s happening,” he says.

His objective was to marry and have kids earlier than he retired from soccer — he hoped to share his sport with a household — however Younger didn’t meet Barb till he was near retirement. They wed the yr he walked away from soccer. Youngsters got here rapidly.

Braedon, 22, and Jackson, 20, are gifted entertainers. An actor and singer, Braedon lately graduated from the Manhattan College of Music. Steve describes Jackson, who’s pursuing his undergraduate diploma, as a “festival of fun.”

Neither had a lot curiosity in soccer, nevertheless.

Summer time wears her father’s No. 8 and has his hearth. She has informed her mother and father she intends to be nice at one thing. Final spring, she ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes on the observe workforce. In the remaining meet of the yr, she tried the excessive soar for the first time. Inside three weeks, the 17-year-old certified for the California state event and jumped 5-6, good for ninth place and a university scholarship provide from Navy on the drive dwelling.

Laila, 14, can also be fairly an athlete, gritty and quick. A aggressive dancer, she strikes as if she is all tender tissue, no bones. She will get Dad to bounce along with her, and, good sport that he’s, he permits her to publish it on TikTok.

Soccer, Barb says, is “a part of Steve’s being.” However for the longest time, it was not part of his dwelling.

Barb by no means adopted the sport. Video games didn’t play on the family-room tv. If Steve needed to observe, he would tune in on his telephone, perhaps as he cooked lunch for the children.

Dad is the one who drives the children to highschool in the morning, picks them up after college and transports them to their actions. “He loves carpool,” Barb says. “It’s his favorite thing.”

Steve Younger, proper with Tom Brady, was an ESPN analyst for 22 years earlier than he was let go in June. (Simon Bruty / Sports activities Illustrated by way of Getty Photographs)

When he was a part of the ESPN “Monday Night Football” pregame present, Younger normally dropped the children off for varsity Monday morning, flew to the sport web site, then flew again dwelling in time to drive them to highschool Tuesday morning.

He will get the children the place they go in a 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan with 120,000 miles on it. His dream is a Mercedes Sprinter that seats 15. He would cowl the flooring with rubber mats, load it up with Summer time, Laila and buddies, and then hose it down at the finish of the day.

Laila has vetoed a trade-up, nevertheless. In that previous Sienna, the crumbs of her childhood are in the gaps between the seats. Her father goes alongside.

“He’s the most amazing dad,” Barb says. “He loves being involved in anything they are doing.”

He additionally loves sharing his data. That’s why he valued his 22-year affiliation with ESPN earlier than he was let go this summer time in a spherical of layoffs.

Younger’s perspective most likely is extra related than ever due to his pioneering enjoying type. A lot of at present’s quarterbacks are harking back to him, or wish to be.

“I was the oddity in the old days, but I’d be the prototype today,” he says. “You have to have a dynamic athlete at quarterback because there are too many yards to be gained because defenders can’t launch anymore and defenses can’t cover as much ground. The middle is now unpatrolled. The game they are playing today is my game.”

Younger hopes to nonetheless present commentary about the sport he loves. However this fall, he connects to soccer otherwise.

They name Atherton the wealthiest metropolis in America. Ty Cobb lived there then, Stephen Curry lives there now, and neighbors don’t flip their heads. In fact, the neighbors have included billionaires Paul Allen, Charles Schwab and Eric Schmidt.

Girls in Atherton historically have participated in sports activities corresponding to gymnastics, water polo, golf and tennis. That is the first season Menlo has a flag soccer workforce, as California is sanctioning highschool girls flag soccer for the first time. The passion is palpable.

They name themselves the Menlo Knights, however they might be the 49ers. The Menlo playbook is the Invoice Walsh playbook. “Black 59 Razor” is the identical play with Montana or Paige Miller calling it. Younger led a workforce outing to the 49ers-Giants sport, the place they watched from a collection and met NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Knights head coach John Paye, a teammate of Younger’s for 2 seasons on the 49ers, requested Younger to help. Younger had by no means coached earlier than, however he’s a pure trainer who has led grownup Sunday college courses for 16 years.

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Steve Younger works with Menlo quarterback Paige Miller. “He’s amazing because he’s connecting with us on an emotional level,” Miller says. (Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

The girls line up on the follow subject behind the college, ready for instruction. They wish to know the right way to throw a soccer. And so they need it defined by one in every of the greatest to ever do it.

Younger has to consider what to say to somebody who has no concept the right way to throw a soccer. The movement, he realizes, isn’t intuitive. He thinks again to his early days at Brigham Younger, watching upperclassman Jim McMahon, and displays on how he developed his mechanics.

That is the sport at the substratum degree.

“Your thumb has to come down, not out,” he tells Miller, a Menlo senior. “And your elbow has to be pointed at the target.”

There’s the bodily, and there’s the psychological, as Younger remembers properly.

“I can throw the ball, but I get in my own head and often have trouble,” Miller says. “So he tells me to take a deep breath, be calm, like peace. He’s amazing because he’s connecting with us on an emotional level.”

One in all Summer time’s buddies informed her Steve is the greatest coach she’s ever had.

An unpaid volunteer, Younger is compensated in methods he by no means anticipated. By way of these girls, he experiences the pleasure of the sport — pleasure that’s acquainted; pleasure that’s recent.

And Summer time loves being on this workforce greater than the rest she’s ever performed. “You grew up going to the boys’ games, and you never really got to experience it yourself,” she says. “It’s a sport I always wanted to play, and now I get to play.”

To her father, it’s not simply after-school recreation.

“This is America’s game, and they’re playing it,” Younger says. “We talk about inclusion a lot now. This is what it feels like and looks like. And it feels like we should have been doing this for 30 years.”

Younger isn’t simply instructing the children on the right way to play soccer.

He’s making ready them to cope with highs that couldn’t really feel increased and lows that couldn’t really feel decrease.

He’s instructing these Knights the right way to depend upon themselves — and each other.

He’s serving to them to uncover ferocity they didn’t know they’d.

He’s exhibiting the girls the right way to push themselves to the place solely their creativeness may conceive them being.

And it brings a tear to his eye.

“There were coaches in my life who had my development and who I was going to become in their hands,” he says. “A coach is like a parent, a priest, a policeman — the people in our society that we trust to do good with the power they have. A coach is a powerful position because so much human development can happen. It’s not just how you throw a ball or run a route that a coach can influence but who you will become as a person.”

That’s the reason to him, this can be a sacred calling.

When he introduced his retirement from the NFL, Younger informed the world that what was forward for him in some ways was extra vital than what he was abandoning. That is what he was speaking about.

In a latest follow, Menlo quarterback Ava Kallen struggled to discover a teammate to throw to.

She approached Younger.

Ava: “What do I do if the receivers aren’t open?”

Younger: “You can run it.”

Ava: “I can?”

Younger: “Yes, absolutely, try it.”

Her face lights up.

Steve Younger’s face lights up, too.

(Prime photograph of Laila, Steve and Summer time Younger: Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

“The Football 100,” the definitive rating of the NFL’s greatest 100 gamers of all time, goes on sale this fall. Preorder it here.