Chip off the old block: Lineage of Virginia basketball standout traces back to NFL-playing grandpa

Despite his propensity for storytelling, Frank Youso has yet to exhaust his supply of tales -- most true, some tall. "Usually he brings out a new one I haven't heard when we go up there," Youso's grandson, Virginia junior Ethan Youso, said recently.

Virginia's Ethan Youso goes up for a shot during a Dec. 13 game against Mesabi East in Aurora. The 6-foot-7 Youso has keyed the Blue Devils' 7-0 start. Clint Austin /

Despite his propensity for storytelling, Frank Youso has yet to exhaust his supply of tales - most true, some tall.

“Usually he brings out a new one I haven’t heard when we go up there,” Youso’s grandson, Virginia junior Ethan Youso, said recently.

“Up there” would be International Falls, the elder Youso’s hometown. It’s where his athletic career was launched, and where he’s resided since retiring from the Oakland Raiders - then of the American Football League - after the 1965 season.

In between, he appeared in the “Greatest Game Ever Played” as a member of the New York Giants, who lost to the Baltimore Colts 23-17 in the 1958 NFL title game. That day, in front of a national television audience, the offensive tackle was forced into duty on the defensive line when a teammate was injured. The Giants’ offensive coordinator, a guy by the name of Vince Lombardi, volunteered Youso to fill in. He did so admirably, until Johnny Unitas took over and led the Colts to victory.

Youso eventually was released so he could join the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961; he was, in fact, the first player they signed. After two seasons in his home state, Youso was released and ready to call it a career. But the Raiders’ infamous Al Davis coaxed him west, and he played in Oakland for three years.
So, yeah, Frank Youso, 80, has stories.


And, of course, athletic advice. Regarding gridiron guidance, his directive to Ethan is simple: “Stay out of it.”

Grandpa doesn’t want the 17-year-old to suffer the same fate that befell him - shredded knees and, increasingly, memory loss.

For one more year, Ethan Youso will have to disobey those orders; the tight end/defensive end will be a senior captain and fourth-year starter for the Blue Devils next fall.

His long-term future, though, is on the basketball court. It’s where the dynamic 6-foot-7 big man already has received a scholarship offer from Minnesota Duluth, and it’s where his blend of size and skill is most noticeable. A dangerous inside-outside player, Youso tries to exploit wherever the defense has deficiencies.

“If they’re smaller than me, I go inside, and if they’re bigger and slower than me, I’ll go outside,” he said.

This season, he’s keyed Virginia’s 7-0 start by averaging 17.3 points, 11 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. As a first-time starter a year ago, Youso scored 15.3 points and grabbed 8.4 rebounds a night as the Blue Devils went 21-8, their ninth consecutive finish of at least 20 wins.

Stretching that streak to 10 years shouldn’t be a problem. Alongside Youso in the frontcourt is another 6-7 behemoth in junior Bryce Kennedy, a big-time football recruit whose list of suitors includes the Minnesota Gophers.

Asked to name the more dominant post player between himself and Kennedy, Youso joked: “I hope Bryce doesn’t see this, but I’ll say I am.”


Why the trepidation?

“Well, he’s got about a hundred pounds of me,” Youso said of his teammate.

Hall of Fame Virginia coach Rich Odell says Youso is one of the first eighth-graders to play on the varsity during his tenure. But then, Odell says, Youso always has been advanced. And not just on the basketball court.

He’s a 4.0 student who’s on target to be valedictorian of his class. Smarts - not to mention athletics - must run in the family. Youso’s older sister, Jessa, graduated in 2013 from demanding Carleton College, where she played volleyball, basketball and track.

“We joke on the coaching staff that we don’t know if Ethan was ever 16 or 17 - he’s always acted like he’s 21 or 22,” Odell said. “He’s just a very mature kid for his age. And I think that has a lot to do with his family.”

Ethan’s grandpa also gave basketball a try at the University of Minnesota, where he quickly found he was better suited for football. Frank Youso says his biggest issue stemmed from the “big, tall 7-footers” beating him up with their elbows.

“I went for about two nights and I said, ‘Shoot, this ain’t for me,’ ” he joked.

Asked for a scouting report on his grandson, Frank Youso came right out and compared him to George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers legend.


“Great big guy, and they couldn’t move him out from under the basket, and Ethan might be that way,” he said. “And he can shoot. He can put the ball in from the outside. I could never do that when I played. But we weren’t taught, either. In those days, they didn’t know what the hell a long shot was.”

His only critique: “Ethan’s too nice.”

Odell used a different word to describe his standout.

“The thing that is really impressive to me is Ethan is very unassuming about his success,” Odell said. “He’s a very humble kid, he’s a very coachable kid, he never draws attention to himself, never seems to be all that impressed with what he’s accomplished.”

As Youso continues to evolve and polish his game, he’s sure to draw more attention from college programs. The idea of playing at UMD, where his family would have no trouble attending games, is intriguing. He vowed to let the process run its course and weigh his options before making a decision.

In the meantime, he’s focused on helping Virginia pick its way through a daunting Section 7AA. At the top is four-time defending champ Esko and its 7-2 center, Adam Trapp. Those teams meet in the regular-season finale March 2 in Virginia.

Face-to-face with Ethan youso

If I could meet one person - dead or alive - who would it be? Shaquille O’Neal


Favorite actor: Harrison Ford

My ideal vacation: Somewhere tropical

Pet peeve: When people don’t work as hard as they should in practice

Last website I visited:

If I had a million dollars, I would: Take care of my family

Game-day superstition: I like to wear the same socks every game (washed in between, of course)

Fear or phobia: Spiders - “not a fan”

Hobby: Coming up with handshakes for the basketball team


Favorite musical group: The Commodores

Favorite home-cooked meal: My mom’s lasagna

At the top of my bucket list is: Go to college with a scholarship

Favorite college or pro team: Duke

Did you know? Ethan’s cousin, Jake Youso (International Falls), was the News Tribune’s All-Area Boys Hockey Player of the Year in 2008

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