Photo: Adrián Luís Martínez
Football history is filled with dynamic duos, quarterback to receiver combinations that reshaped franchises, built dynasties and defined decades. Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison, Troy Aikman had Michael Irvin and Joe Montana had Jerry Rice, but while the best duos find themselves enshrined in the Hall of Fame even the greatest haven’t spanned three continents.
That’s an accomplishment that Tanner Young and Jaylon Hibbs can boast about. The Mallorca Voltors new dynamic duo are still early in their international careers, but their connection dates back to the first day they stepped foot on the campus at tiny Division III Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Both natives of Louisville, their paths didn’t cross until the found themselves laboring on the Colonels scout team as freshmen. For years, the two players dazzled at practice and built a rapport that would pay off in spades down the line.
“We were always getting reps together throughout our four years at Centre, building that chemistry and getting to know each other through the game of football,” Hibbs explains when asked about how their friendship began.
It wasn’t until their senior year that the world got to see what had developed behind the scenes in practice. Named the full-time starting quarterback for the first time in his career, Tanner Young threw for 2,909 yards and 31 touchdowns on his way to being named the SAA Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Hibbs was his favorite target, catching 60 passes for 1,238 yards and 13 of those scores. It was a banner year that was three in the making.
“It was three years of preparation. We had some guys in front of us that were also pretty good. Jaylon got more time than I did our junior year, but it was just about constantly being ready, understanding the playbook and waiting for our opportunity,” Young says. “When we got it, we just executed.”
Despite the gaudy numbers, the idea of continuing their football careers after graduation seemed far-fetched. Both players were looking at business opportunities when another teammate, defensive back Tommy Kaczocha, started plying his trade overseas. The dynamic defender has starred for the Finnish champion Kuopio Steelers and Poland’s Bialystok Lowlanders and his persistent encouragement led to his college quarterback starting a Europlayers account.
“He set me up with a Europlayers account as more or less a joke and somehow it ended up working out,” Young says. “I guess the rest is history.”
The UNSW Raiders of Australia were the first team that came calling and while negotiating with Young, the subject of offensive weaponry came up. The Raiders needed a receiver and their new passer had just the guy in mind. Pretty soon, Jaylon Hibbs was in the fold and the pair were headed to the land down under.
While still developing as a destination for imports, playing in Australia was an extremely positive experience for the two, providing stereotypical Aussie comradery, sun and the chance to explore Sydney and the surrounding areas. On the field, the Young to Hibbs connection continued to light up the scoreboard. When they returned to the States in December of 2019, Hibbs had earned a spot in the Hula Bowl college all-star game and professional try-out opportunities, while Young went to work as a financial advisor.
It seemed like their time slinging the ball around might be at an end, but the COVID-19 pandemic quickly put their professional plans in limbo. Hibbs was still a sought after import however and British lineman Sam Troth, a teammate with the Raiders, but him in contact with Spain’s Mallorca Voltors. When the LNFA team’s projected starter was unable to make the journey from Ireland, Hibbs knew it was his turn to return the favor and invite Young along for the ride.
The two joined the team just three days before the season opener but their established chemistry makes it a lot easier to jump right back into things.
“I’m used to knowing what he can do and being able to get the ball to him where he wants it,” Young says. “We may or may not have had a little bit of rust we had to work through in our first game in terms of some miscommunications, but it’s obviously a lot easier knowing what your receiver is capable of.”
On the field is not the only place their friendship has helped. While the life of an import can often be filled with moments of culture shock, language barriers and a certain degree of isolation, having a long-time teammate along for the ride makes for a much smoother experience.
“It’s helped to make those sort of uncomfortable situations a little more comfortable, being with someone you’re familiar with,” Hibbs admits. “Going through the same things together makes it a little bit easier.”
That was especially true this year. Due to a large break in the Spanish schedule between the first two games, the Americans were away from family for the first time ever over the holidays. Young and Hibbs leaned on each other and a healthy dose of FaceTime to get through.
“I guess with the technology these days, you are away but you’re never really away, you know?,” Hibbs laughs.
Of course, the setting helped. A picturesque island off the Spanish coast, Mallorca is an odd location for a football team but a bucket list vacation destination.
“That was one of the things that drove us over here. You do a quick Google search and you are pretty impressed with the images you see, and the images do not do it justice by any means,” Young says.
“We did a lot of traveling and sight-seeing. For us, a normal Christmas would be a snowy day, but here we were out looking at sunsets and experiencing some pretty cool stuff that we hadn’t seen before. It was definitely different for us, but a holiday we aren’t going to forget.”
Now, the pair are focused on bringing a championship to the beautiful island by continuing to put up the video game numbers that have become their trademark over the last few years. It’s not something either player could have imagined when they first met in Danville all those years ago.
“Football has allowed us to do great things,” Hibbs says. ” It’s allowed us to travel and meet new people.”
That’s a sentiment that Young echoes wholeheartedly.
“For people maybe thinking of doing something similar, don’t be afraid to take those steps because it really is rewarding,” he says. “We’ve made lifelong friends through this. Its just been awesome and a great experience.”
It’s easy to make that leap when you’ve got a teammate by your side.