Dec. 6, 2007

From the November issue of Lacrosse Magazine
By Matt DaSilva

Exhaustion overcomes Will Yeatman as he plods through an open door, drops his bags, plops down on the futon and flips on ESPN to find another acerbic report on the struggling Notre Dame football team.

Regis McDermott turns to see his man-child of a roommate relegated to a sack of flesh, and wonders how he does it, how a day after losing to Michigan to continue the worst start in school history, Yeatman can strap on full pads Sunday and continue to put his body through this hell.

“He’s just so friggin’ exhausted,” says McDermott, who abandoned early concerns about having a 6-foot-6, 260-pound roommate. “The way we have our beds lofted together, they kind of run into each other. I thought we were going to be playing footsies all year, but he usually ends up passing out on the futon.”

Imagine McDermott’s surprise, then, when he finds Yeatman at a fall lacrosse practice on a Monday, his only day off from football. He watches in street clothes and fiddles with his stick on the sidelines. It helps him forget.

And then it dawns on you: Will Yeatman needs lacrosse.

“Sometimes,” he says, “it’s a breath of fresh air.”

“Since he was in second grade playing Pop Warner, he was happy to be playing football. But when the season was done, he was relieved,” says Will’s mother, Bonnie. “He’d immediately go pick up a lacrosse stick like the day after football was over. That’s always been kind of his happy time — lacrosse.”

It was around this time two years ago, after wringing his hands over football offers from schools like Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, and North Carolina and lacrosse offers from the ACC schools and Johns Hopkins, that Yeatman decided to play both in South Bend.

Though the football schools were hotter to trot on him earlier, Yeatman’s verbal commitment Dec. 14, 2005, was with Notre Dame lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan.

“I know what a lacrosse player looks like,” Corrigan says. “There wasn’t any question Will was a lacrosse player.”

Three months later, however, Irish football coach Charlie Weis announced that one of his tight ends from the 2005 season was leaving for academic reasons and that Yeatman — at the time in the middle of his second All-American lacrosse campaign at Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High School — would be awarded a football scholarship instead.

It made sense, since Weis uses a lot of two- and three-tight-end sets. Yeatman appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman during the 2006 season, serving primarily as a blocker and helping the Irish to a 10-3 season that ended in a loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

During a press conference last season, Weis was asked about Yeatman’s unexpected progression.

“Have you seen, watching him, the lacrosse footwork comes in handy?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know what lacrosse footwork is,” Weis jested.

The reporter continued amidst laughter.

“It’s being able to make cuts a lot like a basketball player.”

“I think he’s big and athletic,” Weis said. “I think when you first get a guy, you really don’t — you watch him on tape and you see what you see. He’s a big man now. This is not a little guy here. He’s a big guy. He’s a big, powerful guy that’s very athletic.”

Ten days after the Sugar Bowl, Yeatman reported to lacrosse practice. All he did there was lead the Irish with 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) as part of an 11-4 campaign that ended with an overtime loss to eventual national champion Johns Hopkins in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. Yeatman was named the Great Western Lacrosse League’s Newcomer of the Year.

Weis, who agreed to allow Yeatman to play lacrosse as long as he was contributing in both sports, lauded him for the feat in front of football teammates. (Weis later returned to a gruff façade by razzing Yeatman about his San Diego tan.)

Yeatman’s novelty as a two-sport standout wore thinner as he became more proficient in both sports. To some, it was inconceivable that someone with legitimate NFL hopes would endanger them with something as trivial as lacrosse. Others saw Yeatman wield a lacrosse stick and thought he should give up football.

“Hey, if the guy has 40 points as a freshman, maybe he can have 80 points as a sophomore,” says University of Denver coach Jamie Munro. “And we’ll all have to deal with that.”

Says his high school lacrosse coach Bruce Seitz, “The lacrosse stick looks like a toothpick in his hands.”

Yeatman’s duality was never more apparent than it was April 21.

It started with Notre Dame’s final regular-season home lacrosse game at 11 a.m. Yeatman dished an assist as the Irish defeated Lehigh, 14-2, in front of an intimate gathering of 1,252 at Moose Krause Stadium.

At 1:45 p.m., he swapped gear and broke from a huddle in front of 51,852 fans at Notre Dame Stadium. It was only a spring football game, the 78th annual Blue-Gold Football Festival, but it ended in a Gatorade dousing of honorary coach Lou Holtz.

“I was sitting in the stands for that lacrosse game, and people talking about Will behind us are saying he’s going to leave lacrosse for football,” Bonnie Yeatman says. “Then I go to the Blue-Gold game, and it just so happened there were a bunch of football guys sitting behind us, and they’re saying Will’s going to leave spring football and play lacrosse [full time]. My daughter and I were just laughing.”

They told Will about it later that day.

“I always get surprised,” he says now. “Where the heck did you hear that?”

Most rumors are generated by Internet scuttlebutt. Yeatman’s football profile rose even higher this fall when Konrad Reuland, his classmate and fellow Southern Californian, left Notre Dame after Yeatman surpassed him on the depth charts.

“He called and said, `I had one of those days, just a bad day.’ He drove his best friend Konrad to the airport, had to say goodbye, come home and practice,” Bonnie Yeatman says. “Life doesn’t stop.”

On the other hand, Yeatman was now the No. 2 tight end behind Mackey Award finalist John Carlson. A fifth-year senior, Carlson is projected to be a second- or third-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft. It seems plausible that Yeatman could follow him there.

“It’s absolutely a legitimate thought to have,” Yeatman says. “But at the same time I always tell people, and I’m honest, I’m really focusing just on my college sports right now.”

Yeatman lost 12 pounds playing lacrosse and in eight of 15 spring football practices, but gained almost all of it back in the weight room over the summer.

“How could you possibly be on a lacrosse field for two hours a day for six days a week and not improve your agility? I don’t know how you could design a much better program for a guy you’re making into a skill-position player,” Corrigan says. “If [Weis] tried to get his whole team to do agility six days a week, he’d have a revolt.”

Then again, they don’t need lacrosse the way Yeatman does.