Fishing is first love for Lions' Willie Young
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Lions defensive end Willie Young sacks the quarterback, he has one of the more original celebration dances in the NFL.
Young takes a few steps, pulls out an imaginary fishing pole and reels in the big catch: the quarterback.
When the 6-foot-5, 251-pound Young isn't playing football, he likes to be out on the water, sporting a real fishing pole. An avid fisherman since he was a kid, Young found a way to transfer his love of fishing into the sport he plays professionally.
"I remember going out [on the water] as soon as I could," the 27-year-old Young said about his first time fishing. "I had to have been at least 3 or 4, probably."
And getting out to fish at such a young age must mean one thing: Someone in his family loves it, too.
"I got my love of fishing from my dad," Young said. "And I think he got it from his father, so my granddad, if you really get technical with it, but it goes back a long ways."
As a child, Young wasn't reeling in anything that would be featured on the Discovery Channel, but he does have some pretty nice catches under his belt.
He said a bull shark ranks as his biggest catch to date. According to National Geographic, bull sharks are among the most likely type of shark to attack humans, as they favor shallow coastal waters. They range from 7 to 11 feet and can weigh anywhere from 200 to 500 pounds. So you can imagine Young's excitement when he wrestled that monster in.
"It was probably about 7 or 8 feet, probably like 400, 450 [pounds], something like that," Young said.
And was he proud of his accomplishment?
"Yeah, hell, yeah!"
Young isn't the only avid fisherman on the Lions squad. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill enjoys his time on the water, as well, but the two are far apart when it comes to how they got started in the sport.
Hill's hometown of Parsons, Kan., isn't exactly a fishing hotbed.
"We used to fish farm ponds as a kid, so I was fishing as early as I can remember in Grandpa's farm pond," the 32-year-old Hill said. "I really got into it more around high school time. Started doing it more kind of on my own, and it really just developed from there."
Young, on the other hand, grew up in Riviera Beach, Fla., a hop, skip and a jump from the Atlantic Ocean in Florida's Palm Beach County. He could also make the drive across the state and take a trip to the Gulf of Mexico.
So there's no place Young would rather fish than right at home.
"I'm from Florida, the Sunshine State, that's the fishing capital of the world, man," Young said. "Florida, home. Right in my backyard."
That's probably why Young and Hill vary a bit in their approach to fishing.
Young is competitive about it, seeing it as a challenge between himself and the fish. It's a battle he takes seriously. He knows all the different types of reels, all the terminology.
Hill, on the other hand, is more laid-back. Because, really, there weren't going to be any bull sharks coming in Kansas. But he loves it all the same.
"There's not a whole lot else to do in Kansas," Hill said, laughing. "So a lot of people fish extensively in Kansas."
And that difference in how Hill and Young approach fishing is telling in how they plan to continue fishing once their days as professional football players are over.
Young wants to fish competitively; Hill is fine with keeping it a recreational pursuit.
"It's more of a hobby," said Hill, who hopes to plan a fishing trip to South America. "It'll never be a career for me."
The Lions are a team full of anglers. In fact, there's so much interest the team held its first charity fishing outing this past summer.
The Detroit Lions/Kevin VanDam Charity Fishing Tournament was held on Kent Lake outside of Detroit and paired Lions players and coaches with professional and local fishers. Pro Jeff Elliott, receiver Titus Young, safety John Wendling and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson took the top prize.
Hill gave credit to other Lions for their fishing skills as well. He said rookie tackle Riley Reiff, the team's first-round pick in 2012 and a South Dakota native, is great working the northern lakes. Punter Nick Harris is a fantastic fly fisherman. But Hill said kicker Jason Hanson is probably the best all-around fisherman on the team.
The team's best all-around fisherman is also its oldest? Old Man River? Old Man and the Sea? Is Hill making a joke about the 42-year-old who sits just feet from him in the Lions' locker room?
"You can take it however you want," Hill said, cracking a big smile.