Rugby player and third-year communication studies student Charles Edward Young wears his story on his sleeve ““ literally.
The sleeve of tattoos that covers the right arm of the 27-year-old transfer student, combined with his above average age, compels his classmates and teachers to sometimes write him off as a “troublemaker” he said.
But the tattoo meanings go far past rebellion.
There’s a pair of angel wings surrounding a cross, for protection and guidance.
There’s a sunset overlooking an ocean of animals, to remind him of home when he needed it most.
There’s a trio of starfish, representing the motto “live, love and let go” ““ a motto that helped him cope with the uncertainties of serving six years and two deployments in the Marine Corps.
“(You have to) live in the moment, love everything about it, but realize that you have to let go because there is the possibility that there is no tomorrow,” Young said.
Even the location of his tattoos, his right arm, was chosen with care, to offer him a constant reminder of where he comes from.
“My heart is on my left side, but my right hand is my trigger finger, so it was perfect. … I just had to know I was defending what I thought was right ““ my country and my faith,” Young said. “Plus, I needed something to remind me of home.”
“When I was looking down the barrel of a gun, I could always see my tattoos.”
Young enlisted in the Marines immediately after high school, despite his family’s strong disagreement. He said he felt his life lacked direction, as his high school football and baseball careers failed to turn into college scholarships.
He found recognition in the military, gaining notice for his merit on the battlefield and, ultimately, a presidential citation for being the first unit to survive daily combat during his seven months in Iraq.
What got him through, he said, was his thoughts of family and his life back home ““ the life reflected in his tattoos.
During one particularly difficult night, which Young referred to as “the first time I thought I was going to die,” the realization that it was his mother’s birthday gave him the strength to get through many hours of lying still beneath enemy fire.
“I remember looking up at the sky, and there were the most beautiful, brightest stars,” said Young. One of his tattoos is five stars that represent his family. “You read it in books: If you are staring at a star, someone back home is looking too, and I remember wishing, “˜Please, let me get home safe, let this be my mom blowing out the candles.’”
“That emotion stays with you the next time you’re in the thick of it.”
Young said his family played a formative role in turning him into the person he is today. His father was a personal trainer and bodybuilder who trained with gym legends Lou Ferrigno and Columbu Franko, and physical activity was prominent in his household.
His eldest brother, Dan Young, who played baseball at California State University, Fresno and participated in competitive martial arts, accredits their rough-and-tumble family dynamic as having an influential role in Young’s athletic growth. Being the youngest boy in an athletic family left Charles, as Dan put it, to “get beat up on quite a bit.”
“Being at a disadvantage at a very young age, he was in a unique position to develop a toughness that he has kept his entire life,” Dan said. “Family challenges, military challenges, trying to find his way in terms of school and getting to where he is now ““ he’s had to fight for every inch, and that is something that I admire about him.”
A second family
But while his own family helped shape his path, it was another family who saved him when he started to lose sight of it.
During his stay at Orange Coast College after returning to the States, Young developed a strong relationship with his football coach, Faasamala Tagaloa.
Tagaloa, who played both football and rugby professionally, was the one who encouraged Young to get into rugby. But it was his off-the-field influence that left the biggest mark. He bonded quickly with the Tagaloa family, earning the nickname “Angel” from his coach’s daughter.
“When they start inviting you to their home, it’s not so much your play on the field, it’s your character. It was a time in my life I could have easily gotten lost, but you want to do good because you want to believe that they believe in you for a reason, some form of potential,” Young said.
Under Tagaloa’s supervision, Young tapped into his academic potential. After two years at Orange Coast College, he applied to the communications program at UCLA, but they turned him down. Instead of settling for something less than his goal, Young tried again the next year ““ and succeeded.
He was soon faced with another challenge: proving that he belonged.
Young said that many people at school have stereotyped him based on his tattoo sleeve. However, people change their minds when they see that he is “just another kid that wants to learn.”
And despite his limited rugby experience, this attitude has already served him well on the pitch. Both in practice and in outside workouts, teammates said Young inspires them to match his own level of determination.
“He’s made me such a harder worker. We go out and do extra conditioning, and he is always setting the example ““ especially in practice, he sets the tone,” said Chris Schoenherr, a first-year psychology student on the team.
“He’s proof that hard work pays off ““ he is a completely different player already.”
To Young, rugby is like everything else in life. If you put in the work, you will shine through your results.
“It’s like school, if I need help in math ““ which I do ““ I’ll be at the tutoring center,” he said. “Since I am brand new to the game, it’s the same thing. I want an “˜A’ in rugby, so if I’m not studying, I’ll spend my free time passing the ball around trying to get better.”
Young is currently a part of the 15-person rugby team, but hopes to transition to the more competitive seven-person team soon.
And, according to third-year political science student and captain Grant Penney, that transition is probably not far off.
“He isn’t even on the sevens squad, but he comes out to every practice because he is really trying to learn the game,” Penney said.
“What I see is he is competitive as hell, he’s made it known he doesn’t care who it is – he is there to compete, so he really has been lighting the fire under people’s asses.”
The last Charles E. Young that stepped foot on UCLA’s campus left a great impression ““ one that Young aspires to. Despite the stereotypes that come with his tattoos, Young has only one intention when he steps on campus.
“They see the tattoo and my age and think, “˜Okay, what’s this guy’s story, is he just another troublemaker?’,” he said. “But I wanted to prove I have something positive to contribute towards life, toward this classroom.”