Dan Yarborough's football potential was discovered in a fast-food restaurant four years ago, and he has emerged as one of the top defensive linemen in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference. The 5-foot-10, 300-pound senior has 90 tackles and five sacks this season.
He is aiming for a big finish to his high school career with a second straight win over Loyola when the No. 1 Cardinals meet the archrival Dons for the 91st time in the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving morning at M&T Bank Stadium.
It will be Yarborough's third Turkey Bowl, and his Cardinals need a victory to hold on to the top ranking, win the A Conference title and earn all-important bragging rights over the Dons.
Yarborough, who also plays some fullback, is considering a college major in sports medicine to become a strength trainer or a major in sports management. He went to a lot of camps and combines over the summer and is being recruited, but he has not decided on a college.
Question: How did you start playing football?
Answer: It was a weird situation. I was with my mother in a Five Guys Burgers and Fries. I wasn't a big football guy at the time. It was the summer before eighth grade and the owner of Overlea Rec. football, he just happened to be there. He said, "Wow, you're a big kid. You play football?" and I was like, "No, not really," because I didn't have any interest at the time. He was like, "You should come play with us." My mom was against it, because she was afraid I was going to get hurt, of course, but we went. It turns out I wasn't too bad and [Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis] recruited me.
Q: You've played some fullback. Do you prefer defense?
A: Yes. I like hitting somebody. I get double-teamed a lot, and it doesn't get much better than to be able to look at a film and be like, "Two people couldn't even slow me down," or something like that. I don't get bigheaded about it, but it's fun. I'm 17. I'm a kid. This stuff is exciting.
Q: What do you like most about playing in the Turkey Bowl?
A: Just the atmosphere. The feeling of knowing how long this rivalry's been. Just being a part of it. And it's at [the] Ravens' stadium and you don't get that chance often.
Q: What is the atmosphere like for the players?
A: It's crazy. All you hear is the fans. You're looking at Loyola, who's always big. There's a lot of things going through your head, but once the game starts, you get the first play out of the way, it's just a football game.
Q: What does playing for the A Conference championship add to the tradition?
A: It just spikes it up that much more. The Turkey Bowl is extremely important regardless. Even if neither team has won a game up to that point, it's important. The fact that the A Conference championship is on the line and this is the first time we've actually been in this situation since I think they said '82 or '83 is huge for us.
Q: How does being a senior change your outlook on the game?
A: It's everything. It's my last high school game with these guys, it's my last game under Coach Davis period, so it's really special. It just makes you work that much harder. I think I'm prepared well, but I've never practiced this hard. It's just the mindset, the outlook on it is so tremendous to me.
Q: What's it like around school the week before the Turkey Bowl?
A: It's a lot of buzz, people asking the silly question, "Are you guys going to win?" What am I supposed to say to that? No? (laughs) You just give them a smile and be like: "Stay tuned for the game." Everybody's excited, because [being in position to win the conference] is not something that we're used to. At Calvert Hall as a school, we expect greatness, but honestly in the football program in recent years, it just hasn't been that. Last year we had a nice run, but it was cut short before we even had this opportunity.
Q: How do you stay focused?
A: Easy. With Coach Davis, he's a big character guy. He's not one of those coaches that try to tear you down, like: "You're not that good. You need to prepare." He says: "Listen up. You guys are very good, but we can be very great." He's that kind of guy. "Even when you're at the top, you can get higher. You can climb the mountain, but you can also jump when you get to the top of it and get even higher." That's the kind of coach he is.
Q: What are you going to do after the game on Thanksgiving?
A: It depends (laughs). It depends on the scoreboard at triple zeros, but I plan on it being just like any other Thanksgiving. Just go greet the family. Hopefully, get congratulated on a good game. Eat as much as possible.
Q: What are you most looking forward to eating?
A: Macaroni and cheese. I can eat plates full of that. My grandmother and my mom are both very good cooks.
Q: What are you most thankful for?
A: My mom. We've been through a lot together. Especially with my sister boarding while she was in high school, it was often just me and my mother. I actually at one point wanted to leave Calvert Hall, but it was her and Coach Davis' guidance that kept me here. I don't know what would have happened. I might not have played football anymore. She's a great person. She put a lot of great guys around me, and I haven't really had that. I haven't had many relationships with great older guys. I'm not putting my father out there, but we're not a TV family. My mom she's been both parents. She's definitely what I'm most thankful for, because I don't know where I'd be without her.