Varsity player impresses with senior year comeback


Stark Harle

(left to right) Seniors Kevin Yates, Cody Newnom, and Tony Castillo; the three varsity football players, friends since elementry school, pose for a quick photo during the homecoming pep rally.

Gabrielle Deckelman, staff writer

The dulled shards of painful memories are all that remain. Any sense of direction and vision of mind have escaped, leaving nothing but a 14-year-old boy, two paramedics, and disturbed parents waiting to comfort him. Fears lingered as hope continued to persevere. It left him with nothing but the voice of reason to sustain his love for the game.

During the homecoming game of his freshman year, senior Kevin Yates suffered from a severe concussion.

” It was scary, the moment itself”, Yates said. “The next 24 hours [after the game] are still kind of a blur. I was sent to the hospital, and from there to this day I only remember bits and pieces.”

Yates was not able to walk to the bathroom and back without forgetting where to go. He could not preform simple tasks like opening his locker and was told that he was continuously repeating the phrase, “Is it homecoming?”

The aftermath of the incident resulted in Yates sitting out for the next six weeks, four and a half months less than his original six-month diagnosis. Although Yates was out for part of the season, the determining factor was based on this: the second time a concussion occurs, the chance of death increases by 50 percent. In other words, Yates was not going to play football again.

“What it boiled down to was a couple of things,” Yates said. ” My parents loved watching me play football. However, they could not shake what had happened to me.”

Yates decided to walk away from football while he still could, as his parents asked him to take time to develop and mature.

“When I walked away, I did not think I would be back,” Yates said. “I was not one to just [indecisively] try things out and never really make a commitment. The hardest part was when I made my decision; I made it with full intention of never coming back.”

Though football was no longer an option for Yates, he always had a plan.

” I love basketball and would call it my favorite sport because that is what I grew up on,” Yates said. “Basketball had been in my blood since I was a young kid. When football was no longer an option. I dived full long into basketball and also became an avid student of injury prevention of all sorts.”

Yates joined an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team before playing high school basketball, and then later became a part of the junior varsity basketball team as a sophomore. He found himself in another bind during the summer before freshman and sophomore basketball seasons when he hurt his ankle. He had surgery the summer going into sophomore year and, during his sophomore year of basketball he made the varsity team.

“Instead of being on a team that stayed the same relatively for five years and because that really gelled and got the most out of each other, I was thrust into a new atmosphere with less time to perform with players, coaches and really a whole new culture of varsity sports,” Yates said.

Yates was then elected captain of the varsity basketball team during his junior year.

Senior year was just around the corner, and like anybody, Yates wanted to spend his final year of high school rekindling old friendships, finishing things off with the ones he started with, and doing something memorable. Football had been in the past for quite some time, but he and his parents agreed that he was ready to go back to the sport and confront his history with it.

“Kevin jumped right into off season, demonstrating that he was willing to put in the hard work necessary to be successful in the fall,” varsity football coach Chad Simmons said. “Our reaction of a coaching staff was that of welcoming Kevin back to our program. We knew that he would be somewhat behind, having missed two full football seasons, but also saw immediately that he would be willing to put the time and effort through off season and spring training to improve.”

After putting in that necessary time and effort, Yates earned his role as this year’s starting corner back.

“When I returned I had no expectations of starting or even playing,” Yates said. ” I did however trust that if I did my part, I would have an opportunity to play.”

Now Yates shows up to practice every afternoon with an open mind, searching for ways to improve physically and mentally as quickly as possible to make up for the time that he lost.

“The reason I have been able to improve so vastly is the willingness of the coaching staff to work with me” said Yates.

According to Yates, his teammates have created a positive atmosphere with friendly competition, allowing him to get better as he maintains an open mind.

“I have tried to get better each and every day and approach everyday without a sense of entitlement but rather an attitude of believing that we as a team can be great, and by extension that I can be great, but only through some serious hard work,” Yates said.

When Yates joined the team, he was greeted by more than just his teammates; he was embraced by the encouragement from the students, faculty and the outside community.

“The hardest part about coming back to football is also I think the best thing,” Yates said. “The expectation to be excellent and the responsibility that comes with it. It is hard sometimes to know that I have people in the community counting on me, the coaches counting on me and above all my teammates counting on me to perform and contribute my part to the team.”

For senior Tony Castillo, it was difficult to see Yates, both a friend and teammate, leave.

“I was very disappointed that I would not share the field with Kevin anymore,” Tony Castillo said. ” Especially since I had been playing with him since fifth grade, it felt like it would not be the same without him.”

Yates decision to rejoin the football team more than excited the coaches; it brought back old times, with good friends.

“Now that we both play the same position and I get the chance to share the field with him again, it has helped me enjoy my last year on the team even more,” Castillo said. ” He has learned so much so quickly and truly has excelled this year. He has worked very hard and truly deserves his first string spot.”

Yates return to football has made the coaching staff excited and thankful for the talent they receive every year.

“It is difficult to return after missing two seasons and compete with guys who have been in the system continuously for three years,” Simmons said. ” It takes a special type of person to overcome the time missed in the learning process. Kevin has good athletic ability, but it takes much more than physical ability to do what he has done in the past few months.”

The camaradarie of teammates withstanding numerous hours of practice, sweltering summer heat and the moments shining under the stadium lights have all come together to create one love for Yates; football.

“Many of my friends in football and even I could see that we were in a position to accomplish something great,” Yates said. “If I could do anything to help that goal be accomplished, I felt an obligation to; otherwise I could not live with myself.”