ESPN may have a show entitled ‘Numbers Never Lie’, and Bill Parcells may have said something to the effect of; “You are what your record says you are.”, but I just might have found the antithesis to this philosophy; the exception to the rule; the reason why your eyes have to speak for themselves, not just the numbers. They may not lie, but they can certainly prevaricate.
The statistics for Ryan Yates may not support the case for a ticker-tape parade down McMullen-Booth as the greatest Cougar to wear the Garnet and Gold. Yet the amount of character, perspective and maturity on display before he even reaches the gridiron gives reason to think that his status is about to change; and rapidly too. It’s a long way from his 8th and 9th grade seasons living in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Blacksburg, VA in a town known for its roots in Bootlegging and Bluegrass. A town that has only a few more people than Bloomingdale’s Marching Band; literally.
If he’s not the best fullback in all of Tampa Bay, then he’s on what has to be one of the shortest lists ever assembled in my opinion. His style is very reminiscent in terms of current players to that of Cyrus Dooley out of Brandon. He’s not quite Connor Powers since there might not be another one of those for a long time, but he’s the next best thing and there isn’t a single coach high school or college that couldn’t use him for his locker room presence alone; much less his contributions on the field.
Over the past two seasons, Yates has assimilated himself to the culture of high school football in Florida while etching in stone a bond with his head coach and team in that span that would make you feel he has spent his entire life waiting to be a Countryside Cougar. That’s not the case though. He’s only in his third year living in North Pinellas, yet is poised to put his team on his back and take his Cougars to a third consecutive undefeated regular season.
Countryside has lost only twice in 2 years for a 22-2 record in total, but they’ve had to go through Plant in the region in recent years and now must deal with Manatee either in the 1st or 2nd rounds of the state playoffs. Not a problem though for Yates and his crew according to him. More on that later. Here’s the interview I had with the rising senior.
Q: Did you grow up here in the Tampa Bay Area?
A: “Actually I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, but lived in Virginia as well. My family wanted to move around and spend time with more of my other side of the family in Virginia, but once we got tired of the weather, we decided to move down here. There were better opportunities here for my parents, as well as myself and the chances were increased greatly to pursue my ultimate goal of playing at the next level.”
Q: So where you then during your freshman season?
A: “My dad actually worked at Virginia Tech. I started as a freshman at LB on the varsity [at Floyd Co. HS.] Even though the school was really small [Grades 8-12 student population approximately 800] it was important and I’m blessed to have accomplished that. Obviously I was proud to be the only freshman in that school’s history to do that too. My eighth grade year, they went to the 1A state championship. It also serves as something that I can look back to gauge where I’ve been and how far I’ve come to this point.”
Q: Blacksburg, Virginia? Speaking in terms of football, I’m assuming this was some sort of a culture shock for you at first then?
A: “It’s nothing up there like it is down here. That’s what I love about Florida is the competition. To be able to compete with guys that are better than me and sure-fire D-1 prospects helps me get a gauge of where I need to be as a player. The level of competition above all down here is what really drives me.”
Q: So why here in the Tampa Bay area?
A: “I had family in North Pinellas and it was either going to be either Palm Harbor [University] or Countryside. I did some background on Countryside and it really seemed like the same school academically. I then looked at the football program’s success and how many players had gone to the next level from there and that’s how I ended up.”
Q: You arrived here at the same time as Head Coach Jared Davis who was the youngest coach in the county. Now you’re into your third season with him; what’s it been like?
A: “ With Coach Davis, players come first [along with the academics of course]. He constantly stresses that. Me personally, he helps me with just as many things off the field as he does on. We really have an extremely close bond and that’s what I like from a coach. I couldn’t ask for a better head coach or better man to teach me how to be a better man myself. I couldn’t ask to be in better hands.”
Q: Gone are some, if not all of the “marquee” names of a few years past, yet Countryside may have one of its best “teams” yet; very similar to what happened at Plant last season and look at what happened. Can you say this is a similarity to your team or a fair assessment?
A: “100% agree, not just because I’m a senior and want it so badly for me and my teammates especially, but looking at it all the way back to my sophomore season, the majority of us were sophomores, then last year the majority of us were juniors and so on, so I think this is the best shot we’ve ever had at it [state championship] this season. I truly do.”
Q: I watched you for the last two seasons now and have witnessed you getting the ball in crucial moments during games; especially in the red zone or short yardage situations. What sort of statement do you think this makes about your ability AND reliability as a leader and a contributor?
A: “I think that goes along with the relationships I have with the coaches. I think they know how strong and determined I am and that my mentality is that no one is going to stop me in that situation. They have that trust factor it seems. First person that wraps up on me isn’t going to bring me down. It’s going to take another 2-3 guys to do that. They know that if it’s 3rd and short or need a few yards that 100% of the time they can give me the ball and I’m going to get that first down or score.”
Q: So what about this offseason? What have you done to get better?
A: “I’ve really addressed my speed because now besides being the big fullback that I am, I want to prove that once I hit the hole, nobody’s going to run me down.”
Q: What different in your approach from seasons past? Is there anything different? What is it that needs to be evolved in order for you to be a more complete player?
A: “My game is evolving not to be just the best linebacker or fullback, but to simply be the best athlete I can be. To be in the best shape of my life. No such thing as 99%, only 100% each and every play. A lot of people can say they work harder than anyone else around, but I can honestly say that no one works at it harder than me. I feel like I don’t need to go around telling everyone that though. I let that statement happen through my actions in front of my teammates on the field and work ethic off of it. I want to be an example of what it means to work hard. Even the stuff I’m good at I keep working on. There’s always room for improvement and I expect nothing less than perfection of myself…even though it’s impossible (laughs)”
Q: Countryside has played against some pretty talented squads in the past two seasons since you’ve been there. Do you have a Top 5 or certain group of guys that are “must-see” or have made a lasting impression on you?
A: “Definitely #1 is James Wilder. He really singlehandedly beat us (even though in my opinion we did our best to be ourselves) in that game 2 years ago. When it came down to crunch time, he made plays. That’s what it’s all about. I have the ultimate respect for the guy as a player. He’s probably THE best player we’ve played against. I think back and watch film (his particularly) along with other players to see how I compare to him and others. Currently, if I wasn’t playing on Friday Nights, I would go and see in would be Ryan Green nowadays. I’ve watched his highlights too and he’s definitely on the short list of guys I’d like to watch. ”
Q: I know you’re not going to try and make headlines out of where you play at the next level so I don’t expect anything less than a politically correct answer, but I have to ask this; a college coach says you’ve got to make the choice. Straight up; is it going to be fullback or linebacker?
A: “That’s a tough question, but a good question as well. It all comes down to playing time and how it affects me along with the contribution made to the program. I absolutely love both positions equally. I don’t care where (position-wise) I’m playing as long as I AM playing.”
“GREAT YATES ALIVE!”: Fast facts about Countryside’s Ryan Yates
Countryside High School Class of 2013
2010: *Rushing: 64-305 and 7 TD’s (First season at C’Side)
*Receiving: 4-25 yards.
*3rd leading rusher on the team that season.
*Team was 12-1. First perfect regular season in school history, but lost in regional finals to Plant.
2011: *Rushing: 56-261 and 6 TD’s (3rd leading rusher)
*Receiving: 2 receptions for 70 yards (TD)
*39 tackles (season high 12 vs. Palm Harbor University) (4th leading tackler)
*3rd highest scorer on team, 2nd only to RB Diomi Roberts in TD’s.
*Best game vs. Boca Ciega (5-45-2, 1-55-1, 7 tackles)
*Team was undefeated in regular season again, losing in 1st Rd to Venice 28-27.
* Was BHSN Player of the Week during the 2011 season.
*Schools in communication: The Citadel, Georgia, Texas Tech, USF and Wisconsin. (No offers yet)
*Biggest impact (last season): vs. East Lake (Only 39 yards on 10 carries, but 2 crucial TD’s)
*Wants to pursue a degree in Sports Science & Nutrition or teach in Special Education.
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