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Young has made transition from college to pros look easy

FOXBOROUGH -- The quarterback admits he was a little starstruck. Amid all the celebrities and the glitz of the ESPY Awards in July, Tom Brady was coming over to talk to him. Tom Brady, Super Bowl winner. Super Bowl MVP.

"I didn't even know he was there until he approached me," said Vince Young in a conference call yesterday. "Then when I saw him I was a little shocked and excited to stand there and talk to The Man to me, a guy that does whatever it takes to win ballgames, and also continues to get better and better each year. We just basically talked about different things, how to carry yourself and just play the game you've been playing all your life."

Young shouldn't be surprised when the big names come up to meet him. Because with every snap he takes for Tennessee, he's fulfilling the promise the Titans saw in making him the third overall pick in the 2006 draft, close to being The Man himself.

"He beat my Wolverines in the Rose Bowl a couple of years ago," Brady said. "I've always been a fan of his. He's a very exciting player. It's obvious that he's leading that team very well and I wanted to meet him."

Between the celebrity sightings and award shows -- Young took home the ESPY for best championship performance, and his Texas Longhorns won in the best game category for last season's national title game against Southern Cal -- the Titans quarterback has fashioned quite a year in 2006, quickly getting over his sole disappointment, not being selected No. 1 in the draft by his hometown Houston Texans. Young has emerged as one of the most exciting rookies in his class, impressive considering the quality of the crop.

And more than any individual performance, Young has quickly turned the Titans into a team that matters, reeling off six straight wins (after Tennessee started the season 0-5) to arrive at the final game of the season Sunday against the Patriots with an 8-7 record and an outside shot of making the playoffs.

With 1,972 passing yards, a 52.6 completion percentage, and 12 touchdown passes (with 11 interceptions), Young has made the case that his unconventional throwing style indeed translates to the NFL. Add that to his 523 rushing yards, and the impressive reviews make perfect sense, especially considering that during the six-game winning streak, Young has seven TD passes, three scoring runs, and just three interceptions.

"That's pretty much all I've heard all my life," Young said, of the concerns over his throwing motion. "I didn't too much care about it. I was used to it. When I got to the NFL, I just wanted to get into dropping back and delivering the ball downfield, so they can see that I can."

Which they have. Installed as the starter over Kerry Collins in Week 4, Young has turned a franchise full of questions -- after cutting ties with longtime quarterback Steve McNair in the offseason -- to a franchise with its most important question answered.

"When you evaluate a guy like we did, you evaluate the height, weight, strength, throwing motion, work habits, and all that other stuff," said Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "What you can't evaluate is what's inside of a guy, the heart, if you will. He didn't surprise me, but he reiterated that and showed in that way the type of person that he was. Besides the physical skills, it's the will and the strength inside, the 'it' factor that a quarterback either has or doesn't have.

"Obviously, he has it. The quickness in which he won the team over and the quickness in which he became the leader, the guy everybody looked up to, that was special. Vince Young has this great ability to lift others around him. To see him do it so quickly, that wasn't a surprise, but it was certainly good to see."

Said Patriots defensive back Artrell Hawkins, "I'm not surprised at what he's accomplishing. He's a wonderful athlete. I think he knows how to win. That type of quality, only a few people have it, and I can honestly say that Tom has it and I think this kid has that 'it' quality, too, that is kind of intangible. You can't really put your hands on it, but he finds ways to win and that's what you want in a leader."

Young won in college and so far has done it in the pros. Though taking his team to the brink of the playoffs -- and thereby raising expectations -- won't be enough soon.

"Coming from a winning program, being a winning player and that experience, that's helpful to any player," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Does that guarantee that that's going to be the way it is at this level? Of course not. It certainly looks like he's doing all he can to make it happen."

Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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