Texas running back Selvin Young celebrates a win over Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio on Sept. 10, 2005. Texas beat the Buckeyes 25-22. (Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Selvin Young meets challenges in the business world just like he did at Texas

Texas ex finding his way after pandemic forced him to reverse field, start over

Posted May 30th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Selvin Young lives in Houston and owns Custom Food Truck Builders
  • “I’m trying to figure out ways to maximize things,” he said, “Im trying to keep moving forward with everything. This coronavirus has been a wakeup call. It’s not easy, especially when you already don’t known where your next customer is coming from.”
  • Young had more than 3,000 all-purpose yards and 29 touchdowns at Texas.

Selvin Young was a self-made college football player who, just like his more famous Texas teammate with the same surname, grew up in humble surroundings in Houston before arriving in Austin.

Fourteen years after the biggest game of his life, Young has matured into a self-made man, an entrepreneur who is attempting to figure out to keep things moving while the pandemic wreaks havoc on him and his fellow small business owners.

Vince Young’s lovable sidekick famously scored a touchdown in the 2006 BCS championship game win over USC on an option pitch from VY, even though replays revealed Vince’s knee was down before he released the ball.

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“I’m going with the touchdown call there,” Selvin chuckled in a recent conversation. “It was six for the Longhorns.”

 

Young, 36, is the owner of Houston-based Custom Food Truck Builders, which is just that, a company that specializes in customizing food trucks. Before COVID-19 crippled thousands of businesses, Young was having a nice run in his venture — CNN Business profiled him in 2015 — and while he is still hanging in there, business is understandably slow.

“I’m trying to figure out ways to maximize things,” he said, “I’m trying to keep moving forward with everything. This coronavirus has been a wakeup call. It’s not easy, especially when you already don’t known where your next customer is coming from.”

Texas running back Selvin Young celebrates a touchdown in the 2006 season opener with offensive lineman Kasey Studdard. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Young carries himself in business the same way he carried himself on the football field. His blue-collar work ethic came from being the son of a tough-minded father. Selvin Mitchell, a sheet metal worker, rarely spared the rod with his kids. The oldest of six boys, Selvin was expected to set the example and while he had some ups and downs early in his academic career at Jersey Village High School, he emerged as a prized four-star recruit.

Before he got into the truck building business, Young had already achieved plenty. After starting two seasons ahead of future NFL star Jamaal Charles, he graduated from Texas with a liberal arts degree.

He had long thought about being a business owner, but that dream would have to wait. The NFL beckoned.

Young made it to the pros, but a long career wasn’t in the cards. He played for the Denver Broncos and thrived at first in coach Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He became the sixth undrafted player in league history to rush for more than 500 yards in a season. But injuries limited him to only 23 games over two seasons.

You name the surgery and Young had it: Neck, groin, knee, hip, rotator cuff. It all added up to the Broncos releasing him during the 2009 preseason, a move that still stings because he had risked his long-term health by playing through significant pain and injury for the good of the team, only to be tossed aside.

“I had been having injuries,” he said. “I was hurt, but they were like, ‘Can we get a couple of plays out of you?’ It was ridiculous from the standpoint of what was going on with my body, but I knew it was my dream so I played through it. I didn’t want to be in the streets with those other guys.”

Denver Broncos running back Selvin Young celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals  during a preseason game in August 2007. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press file photo)

He said he soon realized after being cut that he would have to hire legal representation to fight for payments for the surgeries he still needed.

“I broke my neck on a football field and I just couldn’t believe I was going through this after my release,” he said.

He retired with $100,000 to his name. He invested $30,000 into a Houston barbecue restaurant and actually catered a Texas Longhorns team meal while the Horns were in town to play Rice for the 2010 season opener at what was then Reliant Stadium. The venture didn’t work out, but Young liked the idea of custom food trucks.

He sold the one he was using for barbecue and bought another. The idea was to buy a used truck on the cheap, pay a crew of local technicians to customize it — paint, plumbing, wiring, welding, kitchen equipment, etc. — and then sell it for a profit. The business was taking off nationwide and there was a demand from potential restaurateurs who wanted to avoid the expense of paying the high cost of renting a building.

Young also was helped by an incredible act of generosity. He met Wiese Properties CEO Aaron Wiese, a Texas ex, through mutual friends. Wiese, who was based in Houston at the time, offered him the use of a 10,000 square-foot warehouse free of charge. All Young had to do was keep the lights on.

“He told me nobody had ever done anything that nice for him except for coach (Mack) Brown,” Wiese said. “I respect his work ethic. He’s a cool, down-to-earth guy who doesn’t just show up. He gets after it.”

Young eventually leased a 2,500-square foot facility near Hobby Airport. His father, Selvin “Big Stoney” Mitchell — Selvin is “Li’l Stoney” — also came aboard to provide help in refurbishing the trucks and also to serve as a support system when things didn’t go well.

“Having my dad there was good for me,” Young said. “It’s always good to have someone around you can trust. Plus he knew what he was doing. He helped as a laborer and gave me a lot of advice.”

The respect went both ways.

“It was good to see him get out there on his own and make things happen,” said Big Stoney, a sheet metal worker in Houston for more than 40 years. “Just to start out and do it right the first time was something else. That made me so proud.”

Soon, orders started to come in from other parts of the city, and eventually from as far away as Dubai, Taiwan and Japan. Problem was, Young didn’t fully grasp the value of the service he was providing. He was selling the trucks for $50,000 per job, but the market had changed.

“I wasn’t charging enough,” he said. “I was underselling myself back then and now it’s at a point where I have to actually charge what I’m supposed to charge. Most people were charging thirty to forty grand over what I was charging. I missed out on a lot of money there.”

Young said he has built 40 to 50 trucks over the last seven years, but the pandemic has slowed that business to a crawl. Needing a new project to create revenue, he called up an old friend.

Over a few rounds of golf in Pearland a few months ago with Friendswood city councilman Brent Erenwert and that old friend — Vince Young — a new venture was born.

Erenwert is the CEO of Houston-based Brothers Produce, which is collaborating with Selvin’s Farm to Neighborhoods, a co-op based business model that works with local merchants to provide fresh produce boxes with curbside service while also donating to families who are suffering.

“I told Selvin he can touch a lot of lives with this,” Erenwert said. “He’s testing the waters right now. There’s no reason that guys like him, Vince, P.J. (Tucker) and T.J. (Ford) can’t help people and charities in the community while also creating some revenue stream.  There is so much the food banks aren’t hitting.”

Young will make it because he’s one of those guys who attacks the task at hand and doesn’t bother with mediocrity. This is the same guy who overcame an arrest in Madisonville on drug possession charges with three UT teammates his freshman year. The same guy who missed the 2005 Rose Bowl with a broken leg and then was informed after the game that he was academically ineligible and would have to spend the following spring at Austin Community College.

While transitioning into this new business, Young earned a license from Champions School of Real Estate. He already knew that land owners fare better than land renters. He is constantly arming himself with information and now he’s ready to conquer this latest challenge.

“I’ll never quit,” he said. “Whenever I look at a situation and I have nothing, I just say, ‘God, direct my path and show me what you have for me. Give me the strength do what I need to do.’”

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