Foster's Yeager builds success story on return to football
At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, Richmond Foster senior Austin Yeager is hard to miss. Falcons head football coach Shaun McDowell knew of Yeager from summer strength and conditioning camps and his work on the basketball court, but only through those avenues.
Yeager started playing football when he was nine years old but stopped once he got to high school. He chose instead to focus his efforts on hoops and theatre, the latter which Yeager participated in from sixth grade through his sophomore year, going to Broadway performances and performing in two musicals.
So, when McDowell saw Yeager's name come across his phone's Caller ID last May, he got curious.
"He called me in the middle of quarantine for COVID, and he told me, 'I want to play football next year,'" McDowell recalled. "I'm like, 'Heck, yeah, come on!' He'd always had the interest and I think he just thought it was time. We started working out in June. He was there every day and has been working every day since."
At that time, Yeager was at a crossroads in his athletic career.
"When the time came to think about playing college ball, I was conflicted," Yeager said. "A lot of the high school coaches were telling me that I would get scholarships just merely based off of size, so I decided to take their word for it."
Look at him now, as McDowell likes to say. Yeager committed earlier this week to play football for NCAA Division I Incarnate Word in San Antonio, with only 11 games of varsity ball as an offensive tackle to his name.
After a long thought process and talking with family, friends, end coaches. I have decided I’m going to commit to U… https://t.co/y9wG3CLeRa— Austin Yeager (@Austin Yeager) 1624906493.0
"His potential is unlimited," McDowell said. "You're talking about a guy who's continuing to learn the position and continuing to learn the game. We'll move him to the left tackle from the right tackle next year. His body will change. He's really only had one true offseason and summer to really get after it. I'm really excited about him."
Yeager played basketball since he was six years old. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his mother, who played in college. Being taller and bigger than most, Yeager was dominant with the round ball. He played AAU and on different select teams.
But when he started pondering about things long-term, Yeager desired bigger and better. He wants to one day open his own gym and inspire people to better themselves. He felt football could open the door to opportunity, starting with college.
After all, there are not many (any?) 6-6 centers playing high-level college or pro basketball.
"I realized I wasn't getting anything for basketball in the way of college," Yeager said.
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But, because of his physical gifts, Yeager and Foster's coaches felt he had a stronger future in football. He just had to work at it.
"He was raw," McDowell said. "He's still raw. But what makes him so much fun is that he's very coachable and his work ethic is second to none. He works his butt off. He's not afraid to ask questions. I really feel like he's one of the captains of our team. He's the epitome of what you want as a coach out of an athlete. He's the man."
Because of his height, Yeager quickly established himself as a starter. McDowell said he was a natural in pass-protection and physicality, even after being away from the game for a couple years.
"I realized playing football in my one season that football wasn't just a sport, it's about the family you meet and how you work together to push through adversity," Yeager said.
Richmond Foster senior offensive lineman Austin Yeager molded himself into a NCAA Division I recruit after just 11 games of varsity football.Courtesy of Austin Yeager
He also learned a lot about himself.
The toughest part of the recruiting process, Yeager said, was the endless string of camps. He went to five camps per week for a month at one point. The stress of knowing how you performed determines where you go to school was overwhelming.
Yeager drove himself to most of those camps and continued to work out on his own as well, since he was unavailable to attend Foster's SAC camps.
"My motivations are three things: God, my family, and me," Yeager said. "I really don't want to let them down by not being the best I can be, athletically and academically. I use that stress and pressure and form it into anger and aggression, and that's what drives me and motivates me.
"If you want to play D1, you train D1. Nothing will stop you if you continue to work hard and give it your all."