The scene is unusual, really. It unfolds on practice fields in College Park and will do so each week as Maryland’s lacrosse season progresses.
It’s like the sight of Gulliver in Lilliput. Maybe Paul Bunyan just about anywhere. In this case, it’s Will Yeatman on a lacrosse field, effortlessly backing hulking defensemen toward the crease.
There is nothing either legendary or fictional about the 6-foot-6, 260-pound attackman who landed at Maryland after a tumultuous 2008. Still, he represents quite a bit about lacrosse’s changing dynamic.
He’s huge. He’s from the West Coast. He can pass as well as he can shoot. And his errors are magnified more than his predecessors’.
Indeed, the sport’s biggest offseason development involves one of its biggest players. Yeatman played football and lacrosse at Notre Dame before leaving at the end of the fall semester, his athletic commitments slashed in half with a move to the East Coast.
“It certainly had its trials and tribulations, and I definitely learned from everything that went on,” said Yeatman, who debuts Friday when Maryland meets Presbyterian. “It wasn’t easy on me, but I think I definitely grew as a person because of all the tough situations I went through. I think for me, it was a time in my life where I thought I just needed a change.”
He’s a long ways from his San Diego home. He’s close to his family’s Annapolis-area roots and finally in tune with a sport he grew up loving. Now the junior provides hope No. 3 Maryland can win its first national title since 1975.
“This guy could be a first-team All-American, a player of the year candidate,” ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said. “He’s a nightmare matchup. Put him alongside [Grant] Catalino, and teams have to account for two guys who weigh more than 250 pounds. We’ll see if he can keep his nose clean. That’s the bigger concern.”
No looking back
There’s always that caveat with Yeatman, whose lacrosse skills remain unquestioned. He had 45 points in 2007 at Notre Dame, but two miscues slowed his career.
In January 2008, Yeatman was arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence, which cost him all of last season. In September, he was suspended after an underage drinking arrest, though no charges were filed in that incident.
Yeatman insisted he was surrounded by supportive coaches and teammates at Notre Dame. But as the fall unfolded and he had time to assess his situation, he realized a fresh start might be best.
“It was a time in my life where I said, ‘Look, if I want to come out of here and truly be a happy person and really change as a person, I think I need to have a change in my life,’ ” Yeatman said. “I’m really happy I wound up here. It’s been a great fit for me so far.”
The same is true of the Terps, who return their top six point producers from a year ago. Their offense figured to be a strength even before Yeatman settled on a transfer to Maryland, and his arrival only enhances the Terps’ potency.
And those off-field questions?
“He’s had to learn some things the hard way and made some mistakes, but he’s willing to do what it takes to let people know what a nice kid he is,” coach Dave Cottle said. “He’s been a great teammate so far, a hard-working kid. I think he understands where he fits in here. There won’t be a screwup, I promise you that. That’s not the kind of kid he is.”
Earlier this month, Cottle passed Yeatman in the team house to discuss some extra shooting, pointing out his new player’s tendencies depending on the situation.
It was a reminder that Yeatman is far from a finished product, and he’s quick to acknowledge some lingering rust. But his contentment is undeniable; for the first time in his life, he isn’t juggling multiple sports.
“He’s just happy to get back out there,” said Johns Hopkins defenseman Matt Drenan, who grew up playing football and lacrosse with Yeatman. “He’s enjoying playing again and being in a place where feels like he’s comfortable - finally.”
A relaxed Yeatman sets up the possibility of a rare player in the burgeoning sport. Kessenich praised both his footwork and his hands and said Yeatman “makes a lacrosse stick look like a toothpick.”
Then there’s his superlative passing, which makes his size - and ability to see over most players - even more dangerous.
“[Assistant coach Ryan] Moran made an interesting comment: Instead of coining him a jack-of-all-trades, he called him a king-of-all-trades because his skills are a little better than a jack’s,” Cottle said. “You see things every now and then in practice… where you say, ‘Whew, that’s pretty good.’ ”
A lingering question is how soon he might resume his second sport. As part of the NCAA’s transfer rules, Yeatman must sit out the 2009 football season, and he will use his final two years of lacrosse eligibility before he has a chance to play tight end again.
At this stage, that’s enough for Yeatman.
“I was playing football and around a lot of football stuff, but the one thing that genuinely made me a happy person was playing lacrosse,” he said. “I definitely want to play football here. I played in every game at Notre Dame, so I think and I’d hope they’d want me to play football here, too.
“But right now, my focus is on the sport of lacrosse, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.”