July 14, 2024
“So this is, like, his shining moment — his daughters are playing flag football," Summer Young said.

ATHERTON — This isn’t the first time Steve Young has coached at Menlo School in Atherton.

But it’s definitely the most meaningful.

Young is coaching under John Paye, his former teammate with the 49ers, to help start the school’s girls flag football program.

It’s a gig that means even more to Young because both of his daughters — senior Summer and freshman Laila — are on the team.

“It’s been a little emotional because the game has meant so much to me,” Steve Young said. “It teaches incredible values and a sense of teamwork and togetherness. There’s not many games like it. Football runs America in a way, and in that way, they’re now included. I can see that sense of inclusion being so meaningful.

“It really has been emotional for me watching them get the opportunity to play the game. There’s a joy that they have about it.”

Girls flag football got approval to become an official California Interscholastic Federation sport in February, and schools around the Bay Area have quickly thrown things together to get started.

Former NFL quarterback Steve Young talks to his daughter Menlo School’s Laila Young (3) before their flag football scrimmage with Woodside at Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

When that announcement happened, Summer Young said she was “ecstatic” to hear the perfectly timed news.

“This is the first year me and my sister are in the same school together, so I was really happy that we could play together,” Summer said. “This is a sport that I think every girl wishes they could play, so the fact that it’s actually a sport now is super awesome.”

Summer wears her father’s number, 8, but lines up as a wide receiver — a position she said she’s always wanted to play.

“I think everyone expects me to be a quarterback,” Summer said. “But I think my speed is why they put me at wide receiver and why I wanted to play receiver.”

The North Coast Section started girls flag football at the same time as the other fall sports, meaning games have already been played in the East Bay.

Meanwhile, the Central Coast Section, which stretches from San Francisco to Monterey County, didn’t start practices until Aug. 21 and won’t start official games until Monday. But scrimmages were allowed starting this week, and Menlo and Woodside scheduled two back-to-back on Wednesday in Atherton.

Former NFL quarterback Steve Young talks to players before their flag football scrimmage with Woodside at Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Young is an assistant coach on the team. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Games are played over two 22-minute halves, with a running clock for the first 20 minutes of each half, meaning both scrimmages took a little less than an hour each. While Menlo had a few players play quarterback on Wednesday, the starter and primary one was senior Mary Mahe.

Mahe grew up playing football with her older brothers — one of whom, Ryan, played at local powerhouse Serra — and has always loved the game, but never thought she could get a chance to play.

Now, not only is she playing, but she’s got a Pro Football Hall of Famer coaching her at the sport’s main position — even if she wasn’t old enough to be alive when Steve played for the 49ers.

“I looked up to him — my dad was a fan,” Mahe said. “Even just today at the beginning of the game, I was rushing a lot and getting nervous. When I came to the sideline, Coach Steve said, ‘Find your peace. Take your time, find your peace.’”

That wise coaching advice can’t happen at every Menlo practice — Young still works full-time at his private equity firm — but he is coming out once or twice a week, including at Tuesday’s practice and Wednesday’s scrimmage. Young said this is a “full circle” moment because it isn’t the first time he’s coached with Paye at Menlo.

Joe Montana (left) and Steve Young confer with 49ers coach Bill Walsh. With Montana and Young, the 49ers had the ultimate quarterback controversy from 1987-1993. 

Right after Young was traded from the Buccaneers to the 49ers in 1987 and that season’s training camp ended, Young realized that he didn’t have a place to live near the 49ers headquarters, which were then at Red Morton Park in Redwood City.

Paye, who was the third-string quarterback behind Young (the backup) and starter Joe Montana, set Young up to stay in the guest room at his mother’s house just down the road in Atherton. When the NFL players went on strike in the middle of 1987, Paye came to Steve with an idea.

“We were killing time and he wanted to coach women’s basketball and I came along,” Young said. “I had kind of forgotten I did that.”

How was Young, the assistant basketball coach?

“I did nothing,” Young said with a laugh. “I just handed out towels or maybe gave a rah-rah speech — kind of like what I do here.”

That certainly isn’t the case for football, though. Especially since Paye is having his Knights use most of the same concepts and verbiage from former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh’s playbook, which helps Young acclimate back into coaching even if he can’t be at every practice.

“We’re doing the same little playsets we did with the 49ers,” Paye said. “So we’re kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, that play.’ It helps being on the same page with terminology. ‘Oh, Steve, we’re running 22 Z-In.’ ‘Oh, okay, alright.’

Young laughed and added, “With certain plays, John and I were like, ‘Well, how did we signal that?’ and we were arguing over what the signal was.”

Young’s presence Wednesday brought extra attention to an otherwise normal scrimmage, with three local television stations coming down to Atherton. He even did his weekly radio appearance with KNBR’s “Tolbert and Copes” afternoon show from the sidelines at the scrimmage, too.

Steve Young did his weekly hit while coaching his daughter’s flag football game. Overheard during the call:

Steve’s daughter: “My thigh is all bruised.”

His response: “You’ll recover. It’ll be great.” pic.twitter.com/YFUUTfBltG

— KNBR (@KNBR) September 7, 2023

But that radio appearance came after the biggest moment of the day for the Young family. Late in the first half of the first scrimmage, Mahe threw up a pass to Summer Young, even with multiple defenders nearby. Summer Young leaped into the air, snagged the pass and took off, sprinting down the field for a touchdown.

“The sun was in my eyes, but I was telling myself, ‘Summer, you have to grab this, you have to get it,’” Summer said. “I jump up and go,

Mahe added, “I just had to trust her. Lock eyes, trust. Once that happened, I was like, ‘That’s to the house.’ She’s got that one.”

What was it like for Steve Young over on the sideline?

“It was super fun for her. I was so excited because she’s that person that wants to do that,” he said. “She’s just that person that wants to be great and it was super fun to watch.”

But while touchdowns are obviously great, Young made note of another moment, when his younger daughter Laila made a mistake.

“She’s just almost in tears,” Young said. “And that’s why I love football — they both need to experience both sides of that.”

The highs and lows of the sport are what thrills us all. But there can be joy in the simple things, too. For Young, it was the moment his daughters asked him to teach them how to throw a football. For Summer, it’s giving her dad something that he hasn’t had before.

“It’s really special,” Summer said. “Football is a big part of his life, and my brothers, I think he expected them to play football but they didn’t.

“So this is, like, his shining moment — his daughters are playing flag football. It’s cool for him to experience and for us.”

Former NFL quarterback Steve Young gives his daughter Menlo School’s Summer Young (8) a hug after she scored a touchdown during their flag football scrimmage with Woodside at Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)