Football

Center Grove move-in Russ Yeast takes Indy-area football by storm

Center Grove's Russ Yeast has burst onto the Indiana prep scene.

Center Grove’s Russ Yeast has burst onto the Indiana prep scene.

Center Grove senior Russ Yeast (3) rushes the ball into the Carmel backfield where he is met by Carmel High School senior Sean Blackburn (47) during the first half of an IHSAA varsity football game, Sept. 2, 2016.

Center Grove senior Russ Yeast (3) rushes the ball into the Carmel backfield where he is met by Carmel High School senior Sean Blackburn (47) during the first half of an IHSAA varsity football game, Sept. 2, 2016.

Craig Yeast will forever hold bragging rights over his son, Russ.

The last time they raced, Russ was going into his freshman year of high school. Craig, then just a few years removed from his playing days as a wide receiver in the Canadian Football League, defeated his son in a 40-yard dash. But it was close. Too close.

“I retired,” the elder Yeast said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’ll do that again.’ He’d probably beat me, then embarrass me now. Plus, I’d probably pull a hamstring.”

In fairness, there aren’t a lot of football players Russ’ age who can catch him. Yeast arrived like a bolt of lightning from Ohio and has already made his mark through four games of the season for Class 6A defending champion Center Grove.

The signature moment for the 5-11, 180-pound Yeast so far came last week in a 20-7 win over Ben Davis. With the Trojans clinging to a six-point lead in the second half, Yeast ran into the middle of the Ben Davis line, then popped it outside. He turned the corner and ran away from the Giants for an 80-yard touchdown run.

With preseason IndyStar Mr. Football candidate Titus McCoy sidelined with a high ankle sprain, Yeast put together his best game (24 carries for 193 yards) of the season. Yeast, who transferred from Fremont Ross in northern Ohio to Center Grove when his dad was hired as the offensive coordinator at Franklin College in January, has rushed for 566 yards this season and is averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

“I think where he’s improved the most already is his inside running toughness,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “I hadn’t seen that on film. Now when I’m looking at him as a player, I think he could be a running back in college.”

Yeast, who has narrowed his five college choices to Alabama, Auburn, Iowa, Louisville and Mississippi, likely projects as a cornerback and returner by the schools recruiting him. Or potentially as a receiver, the position where his father made his name.

After starring in high school at Harrodsburg, Ky., Craig Yeast rewrote the record books at the University of Kentucky. From 1995-98 (his junior and senior seasons in Hal Mumme’s “Air Raid” offense), Yeast caught a Southeastern Conference record 208 passes for 2,899 yards. He went on to play three years in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets before a five-year run in the CFL.

“I know all of his accolades and stuff, but we don’t really talk about it that much,” Russ Yeast said of his father. “The only time he really brings it up is when he tries to help me, especially in the recruiting process because he’s been through it.”

The recruiting process became somewhat messy for Yeast when he committed to Kentucky prior to his junior year of high school, then withdrew his commitment in June. Not only was Craig Yeast a former star at Kentucky but his wife and Russ’ mother, Tori (Tillman) Yeast, was a former basketball player for the Wildcats.

When Yeast decided to reopen the recruiting process, he took some heat for it on social media. Yeast lived most of his life in Danville, Ky., before moving to Ohio before his freshman year of high school.

“It was kind of tough,” he said. “My parents kind of took some flak for it, too. But I knew it wasn’t where I needed to be. So in that case, it was a pretty easy decision.”

Russ Yeast was originally on the same path as his father, Craig, who played for Kentucky in 1995-98. Yeast withdrew a prior commitment.

Russ Yeast was originally on the same path as his father, Craig, who played for Kentucky in 1995-98. Yeast withdrew a prior commitment.

Craig Yeast said his son handled the criticism well.

“The bottom line with that was that he committed to a place that, at the end of the day, he felt was not the right fit for him,” he said. “I’ve never pushed my alma mater or any school on him. I’ll tell him what I think is best for him. But he made the decision to commit and then decided to open it back up. I support him 100 percent in whatever decision he makes.”

Yeast took an official visit to Auburn the weekend of Sept. 3 and made another official to Iowa last weekend. He said he’ll make official visits to Alabama, Louisville and Ole Miss (dates not yet set) before making a decision prior to the end of the season.

Craig Yeast was the coach at Fremont Ross for two years before the opportunity at Franklin College came up. Russ played quarterback there, in addition to running back, receiver and defense.

Moore said Yeast’s arrival in January – he ran on the track team in the spring – was more advantageous than if he’d showed up in the summer.

“He’d never done track before,” Moore said. “It was good for him to get here and see who he would be competing with and against. He worked hard in the weight room.”

Yeast said at first he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of playing in Center Grove’s run-heavy wing-T offense as a wide receiver.

“My dad said, ‘Would you be OK playing in a wing-T?’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Not really.’ But once I found out they were 14-0 last year, I knew I was going to a good program.”

Moore said he’s become more comfortable with Yeast’s role, even in the four weeks since the opener. There isn’t much of a learning curve on defense, but there are blocking schemes and footwork within Center Grove’s offense that take time to perfect. Yeast said McCoy was one of the first players to reach out to him.

“We have a good relationship,” Yeast said. “He was one of the first people I met here. He’s been a big help to me.”

Craig Yeast said he sees a lot of himself in Russ. He’s even willing to concede his son could beat him in a race – sort of – if present-day Russ could transport back in time to challenge his high-school age dad.

“At this stage, he’s bigger and stronger and just as fast as I was,” Craig said. “He’s a much better player at this stage and I think he has a significant ceiling for further development. If I was running a 40 at his age, I could probably beat him. But if we were going 100 (yards), he’d beat me.”

Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

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