MCGILL: Sports Have Always Gripped Yurachek
The Word on the Herd -- Nov. 22, 2017
Note: This story originally appeared in the September issue of Thundering Herd Illustrated, the official magazine of Marshall University athletics. The story has been updated to reflect the results and statistics from the 2017 season.
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – One of the first sporting events Ryan Yurachek attended was a National Hockey League game in Nashville during the time his father, Hunter, worked in the athletic department at Vanderbilt.
“He was 2 years old and he was mesmerized the entire time,” Hunter said of the oldest of his three sons.
Sports have provided most of Ryan’s memories ever since. He was part of the dogpile on the field when Western Carolina won the 2003 Southern Conference baseball championship. He was the bat boy for the University of Virginia when current Major League star Ryan Zimmerman played there. He was a ball boy for the Cavaliers in 2006, the men’s basketball program’s final season in University Hall.
“I’ve gotten to do so many cool things just by being that tag-along kid whose father works in the athletic department,” Ryan said.
These days Ryan Yurachek is a 21-year-old senior tight end for the Marshall University football team. He has 129 receptions for 1,238 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career as he enters his final home game this Saturday when the Thundering Herd hosts Southern Mississippi. He is third in MU history in career touchdowns by a tight end, trailing Gator Hoskins (28) and Cody Slate (23). Yurachek has caught a pass in 40 consecutive games, the fourth-longest active streak among FBS players. He is tied for seventh among FBS tight ends in touchdown receptions (6) this season.
His on-field exploits, while impressive, are only a small part of his successes.
Ryan is the current face of Marshall football, one who has a unique understanding of the inner-workings of an athletic department because he has spent two decades scurrying around the campuses of Western Carolina, Virginia, Akron and Coastal Carolina.
“He’s got that ‘it’ factor, you know?” Marshall football coach Doc Holliday said. “He does what he is supposed to do, he works extremely hard at being a student-athlete, he is passionate about football … there’s no doubt that he’s a kid who has done everything we have asked him to do. He has all of the intangibles.”
And, as is typical of pass catchers, Ryan loves to have the football within grasp.
“I can’t remember a time when Ryan didn’t have a ball in his hand,” Hunter said. “He has loved sports his entire life.”
Hunter Yurachek was also a collegiate athlete, a four-year letterman in basketball at Division III Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Richmond and embarked on his career in athletics.
He spent four years at his first job, from 1994-1998, at Wake Forest. Ryan was born on Aug. 27, 1996.
Hunter worked his way up the professional ladder from there, going from Vanderbilt to Western Carolina to Virginia to Akron. Finally, in 2010, Hunter earned his first athletic director job at Coastal Carolina. By this time, Ryan had started playing football and developed into a legitimate college football prospect at Carolina Forest High School in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Schools like The Citadel, Holy Cross, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Campbell were heavily involved, but Marshall developed into the preferred destination.
Ryan was discovered by then-Herd assistant Mike Furrey, who is now the head coach at Division II Limestone College. Todd Hartley, now the tight ends coach at the University of Miami, was also involved in Ryan’s recruitment.
“I put a lot of research into it,” Ryan said. “I looked at the football program, the history of the city, seeing stuff like the indoor being built and the renovations going on everywhere.”
Then, of course, came the offensive philosophy of Holliday and the Marshall coaching staff.
“Gator Hoskins caught 16 touchdown passes when I was being recruited,” Ryan said.
The tight end was clearly a focal point of the Thundering Herd offense, and it played out before Ryan’s eyes. He was on an unofficial recruiting visit in the spring and watched Hoskins go to work.
“It was a scrimmage and the first three or four plays they threw to Gator Hoskins, who was a similar size to Ryan,” Hunter said. “I still think they did that on purpose to show Ryan they throw the ball to the tight end.”
Ryan committed to Marshall on June 18, 2013 and signed an official letter of intent the following February.
“He was a kid coming out of high school who didn’t pass the eye test, per se,” Hunter said. “A lot of coaches told him he’d never play at (the FBS) level.
“He was so excited when Marshall gave him an opportunity that others wouldn’t. He didn’t want to let any of those coaches down.”
Ryan’s earliest memories of sports came in Cullowhee, North Carolina, which is where Western Carolina University is located.
Cullowhee was a small town without many neighborhood boys, so Ryan would throw popups to himself off a garage that had a slanted roof. He played basketball with two imaginary friends, and naturally they were a formidable trio.
“Cooper and Henderson – I still remember their names,” Hunter said with a laugh. “He would just be out there for hours, throwing a ball or shooting around.”
Todd Raleigh, the head baseball coach at Western Carolina, allowed Ryan to be a bat boy along with Raleigh’s son, Cal, who is now a catcher at Florida State. Little Yurachek and little Raleigh would compete to see who could be the first to fetch a ball or scoop up a bat.
The competitiveness didn’t stop there for Ryan. He played baseball, basketball and, starting in the sixth grade, football. He ran track for a couple years, too. Second place didn’t sit well with Ryan.
“From day one, he has had a competitive spirit and competitive fire,” Hunter said. “It didn’t matter what the competitive game was – Checkers or baseball or Monopoly or whatever – I don’t think he’s lot an ounce of that competitive desire.”
That will and want to succeed pushed Yurachek this offseason. He has helped Marshall to at least a four-game turnaround in the win column this season, and the Herd is headed to a bowl with a winning record for the fourth time in five years. After that bowl game, he said, he will pursue a professional football career.
“I would love to have a shot to make an NFL team,” Ryan said. “Other than that, I don’t think I could ever get away from sports or athletics. I’ve thought about being a coach or going into athletic administration.”
The common thread: sports. He will find a way to keep playing, and once those days are over he will move outside the lines to stay involved – just like his father.
“I have encouraged and will always encourage my children to do for the rest of your life what you’re passionate about,” Hunter said. “He’s been passionate about sports his entire life. I can’t see him not being around sports. Whether it is being a coach or an administrator or whatever that next chapter in life is, he better make sure it’s something he’s passionate about.”
The fabric of Ryan Yurachek made him a perfect fit for Marshall University, its football program and the community. Like a boy does a ball, it gripped him. Here he found what mesmerized him as a toddler at a hockey game and all the reasons he’d spend hours in the backyard with his invisible cohorts and a ball as his best friend.
“It’s been an awesome experience at Marshall,” Ryan said. “I would put the fan base and the tradition of this football program up to any other. I don’t think there’s a more supportive fan base in college athletics than there is for Marshall football. This has been and always will be a special place to me.”