BOGACZYK: Yurachek Goes from Project to Player to Starter
The Word on the Herd-April 15, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- There were seven Rivals three-star prospects in Marshall's 2014 football recruiting class. Tight end Ryan Yurachek wasn't one of them. He was a two-star guy.
There were eight true freshmen to play for Coach Doc Holliday's nationally ranked Conference USA championship team in 2014. Of those, Yurachek was among the three players most productive for the Herd, along with backup slot receiver Hyleck Foster and Antavis Rowe, who was a second-unit corner and nickel.
Most would say that Yurachek's best moment last season came with 0:05 left in the first quarter on Oct. 18 at FIU Stadium, when he caught his first college touchdown ... and the 1-yarder lifted quarterback Rakeem Cato to the NCAA's major-college record for most consecutive games with a TD pass.
Yurachek might say he was most excited back on Aug. 30 -- only three days after his 18th birthday -- when he played on special teams and as senior Eric Frohnapfel's tight end backup in his first Herd game, an opening win at Miami (Ohio).
That was after he was regarded good enough to earn a grant-in-aid, but in Herd coaches' minds perhaps not a major contributor for a season or two.
"I don't think it surprised me, but I do think it surprised other people that I played right away," Yurachek said after the Herd's Tuesday workout, the 10th of 15 spring practices. "In recruiting, I was a little bit overlooked because of my size, but I knew I could do it.
"I worked really hard. I didn't play baseball my senior year (at Carolina Forest High in Myrtle Beach, S.C.) so I could get into the weight room. I missed my first seven games that (football) season with a torn left meniscus, played the last five.
"I played basketball in winter to get shape, but gave up baseball, and I'd played baseball since I was 4 years old. I spent those 3-4 months getting in shape, putting on 10 pounds, doing everything I needed to do."
Yurachek, the son of Houston interim Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, admitted the numbers worked in his favor. However, it was the Herd rookie who took advantage of the situation, and now he's projected as the 2015 starter at a position where Marshall is rebuilding.
When he arrived in Huntington last summer prior to August camp, there were four tight ends in front of him at a position where Gator Hoskins had started and starred the previous three seasons. In line ahead of Yurachek were Frohnapfel, Devon Johnson, Joe Woodrum and Deon-Tay McManus.
"When I got here in camp, I needed to catch the ball and run good routes and I think I impressed the coaches that way," the 6-foot-2 1/2, 231-poundYurachek said. "I had to be the most physical person I could be, because I am a little bit undersized, and I had to bring more physicality than people thought I had.
"I needed to be a good blocker. People want those 6-6 tight ends, those end-line blockers, so I had to show that a 6-2, 6-2 1/2, 230-pound guy could do that. And that's what I focused on."
He used his smarts as well as his toughness. Yurachek, a business major with a 3.85 GPA, is one of three Herd football players who are 2014-15 C-USA Commissioner's Medal winners (3.75 or better), along with offensive lineman Jordan Dowrey and quarterback Cole Garvin -- all 2014 signees.
"I just wanted to play, whether I was making an impact on special teams or if I played five plays on offense or 20," said Yurachek, who was born in Greensboro, N.C. "I just wanted to play. I wanted to travel (with the team).
"I felt like I'd kind of missed out on my senior football season, and I think that pushed me even harder to make the travel squad and do anything I could to get on the field."
It's not like major suitors went to the beach to see him. It was Marshall, a few Sun Belt Conference teams and several FCS programs. To reach the point where he played in all 14 games and made 17 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns for a team that finished 13-1 and ranked Nos. 22/23 in the final polls, Yurachek needed the waters to part, so to speak, to get rid of a potential redshirt.
"I mean, the odds were against me," he said. "There were four tight ends ahead of me when I first came in, and then everything kind of fell into place.' Rock' (Johnson) got moved to running back to start camp, and Deon-Tay, they started realizing he was better outside. So, then there were Froh, Joe and me.
"I knew I could play, but I really thought I might redshirt just because of how the numbers were. But then everything fell into place and it worked out."
Now, under new tight ends coach Todd Goebbel, Woodrum works behind Yurachek, with redshirt freshman converted linebacker Kaleb Harris and newcomer Emanuel Byrd making the position deeper than it was last season. Of the foursome, only the 6-6 Woodrum -- a multiyear regular on punt and field goal units -- is taller than 6-3.
As for Yurachek, he has the opportunity to be a three-year starter in a position where Marshall has boasted names like Hoskins, Lee Smith, Sean Doctor, Mike Bartrum, Cody Slate, Jason Rader and Eric Ihnat.
"The focus this spring? I think this winter all of us focused on getting stronger," Yurachek said. "One thing I needed to work on from last year was my end-line blocking. I put 30-40 pounds more (on the bar in the weight room) this offseason, and I'm working on being more physical blocker, being an end-line presence when I'm in there, rather than they're having to pull me out."
Since his arrival on campus in the summer of 2014, Yurachek has added 170 pounds (up to 460) to his squat and 30 pounds (up to 350) to his bench press. He does 19 reps at 225 pounds in the pro bench.
"I was 227 when I got here, and I'm 231 or 232 now. I'm not a lot bigger, but I'm stronger, and I've lost some body fat."
That came after he gained big last season.