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With big foot, big things happen for Yates

The Baltimore Sun

UPPER MARLBORO -- To almost everyone inside the tiny football stadium, Saturday felt like the Fourth of July, with sky-high temperatures and humidity to match.

To Hereford's Adam Yates, however, Saturday was Christmas morning with a new bike and a BB gun under the tree. After nearly a year of waiting, Yates finally got to live out a dream by kicking in a game, and the results - three field goals and three extra points - were nearly secondary to the experience itself.

"It was awesome," said Yates, minutes after the Bulls' 38-18 win over Douglass of Prince George's County. "Kicking in a game is so much better than practice. It's like being in the batting cages in baseball all year. I feel like I've been in a batting cage for a year and never actually gotten up to the plate until [Saturday]. That was nice. I love kicking in games.'

That's the kind of exuberance to be expected from a wide-eyed freshman in his first varsity game. Saturday was Yates' first game, to be sure, but he's no freshman.

He's a senior, who, after three years of playing soccer, is now a football player, or at least as much of one as a kicker can be.

And the kicker - pun intended - is that Yates may already be one of the best in the area, despite having never played in a game before Saturday.

The record shows that Yates connected on field goals from 39, 26 and 30 yards. What it doesn't reflect is how he and holder Tyler Brown, the starting quarterback, worked seamlessly despite poor snaps on each of the placements and limited practice time together.

"I trust him," Yates said of Brown. "We've got a good trust going on there. We just keep on going at it and I trust that he'll put it down."

It took roughly a month of watching Yates boom kicks from 60 yards and farther over the screen behind home plate on the Hereford softball field for coach Steve Turnbaugh to be convinced of Yates' ability.

"We feel that if we get to the [opponent's] 30-yard line, it's not even a question of what we're going to do," Turnbaugh said. "If it's fourth down and we're on the 30 or 35, we're putting him in. He's got a big league leg and we're going to take advantage of it."

Travel time

That Yates is in this position, with a chance to match or surpass the state public school record of 12 field goals in a season set by Urbana's Josh Brown in 1999, or to challenge Havre de Grace's Shane West, who kicked a 59-yard field goal four years ago, may someday be the stuff of legend.

Consider that this time last year, Yates, 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds, was a defender on the Hereford soccer team. He had been playing soccer since he was 5, and he had enough leg strength to outkick most players, but not enough love for the game to be great at it.

"I never really liked the dribbling part or passing part of soccer," Yates said. "I just wanted to kick it as hard as I could."

Yates said he had a dalliance with football in the seventh grade when he went out for a youth team as a wide receiver. However, because he was just over the weight limit for his age, he was forced to play with older boys, and it didn't take long for him to discover that he was on the wrong field.

"I got killed a couple of times, so I decided I was a soccer player," Yates said with a laugh.

He played soccer loyally and faithfully, but without a lot of distinction. After last season, a soccer coach suggested Yates take his powerful right leg in pursuit of a spot on the football team, so he went over to a field at a nearby middle school and started kicking field goals from 20 to 50 yards, in 5-yard increments.

He made nearly all of them and, from there, a kicker was born.

"That's when I decided I was a lot better at football than I was at soccer," he said.

From there, Yates' father found a kicking coach in Paul Woodside, an All-America kicker for West Virginia in the early 1980s.

Drawing looks

Woodside began to tutor Yates through 4th Down Sports, a Northern Virginia-based kicking camp, and took him to a number of camps on college campuses, where Yates began to make a name for himself even among more experienced kickers.

Yates made favorable impressions at such notable stops as Penn State, Wake Forest, Purdue and Michigan, and Woodside said he was confronted with the same question at each stop: "Where has this kid been?"

"He would mess with these coaches, as ... he would hit six [kicks] that were very good, two that were NFL caliber and then one that was a mulligan," Woodside said. "They're looking at him suspiciously like, 'Who are you?' "

On the trip between Purdue and Michigan, Yates and Woodside made an impromptu stop at Notre Dame so that the youngster could see the campus.

As it happened, a couple of football coaches noticed he was carrying a soccer bag from Hereford, a school they had recruited from. Eventually, head coach Charlie Weis became a spectator and was reportedly impressed.

In all probability, Yates needs only the experience of getting through this season to land, at the very least, a guaranteed walk-on slot with a Football Bowl Subdivision school next year. Surprisingly, Woodside said it's Yates' newness to football that helps make him so good.

"The great thing with him is because he is so new, he doesn't have to unlearn bad history or coaching," Woodside said. "When you see someone who is that hungry to do whatever it takes to be successful, you're kind of standing back and saying, 'Oh, my goodness. What do we have here?' This is all him."

There is still a lot of soccer in Yates. His approach on kickoffs - baby steps on pigeon toes before a long stride and explosion into the ball - more closely resembles a corner kick than Matt Stover.

But it works. Yates put two kickoffs into the end zone Saturday and one at the 1, which the Douglass kick returner could only advance to the 15; the Eagles were pinned deep in their territory for much of the day.

Turnbaugh, who has coached Hereford to three state titles, credited Yates' kicking for keeping the Bulls in the game in the first half, in which they committed an uncharacteristic four turnovers.

"He's amazing," Turnbaugh said. "For this being his first real game, I thought he did fantastic."

Yates, however, was thinking more about whatever went wrong on a fourth-quarter attempt that was blocked. That would have made the day perfect rather than just pretty good. But not to worry - for Adam Yates, every game day is like Christmas, and there are plenty of gifts still to be opened.

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