CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) - There are moments when Miami running back Joseph Yearby feels like his world is falling apart.
His father is in jail, awaiting trial that records suggest may send him back to state prison. He has two kids of his own, a 3-year-old son and a daughter born earlier this year. The pressure to provide for his family is constant. So is the lure of street life.
He doesn’t like to talk about these things.
They are his pain. They are what drives the 19-year-old toward what he hopes is something better, for himself and for his children. They are why he took a month away from the Hurricanes this summer, so he could get his mind right and decide if he could make everything that’s on his plate - fatherhood, football, academics and more - somehow work.
“My kids will know I was there,” Yearby said. “If I know what I’m doing, if I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to be there either way. I’m going to be there for my kids. I’m going to be there for my team.”
The Hurricanes hope that’s the case, on all counts.
After a considerable amount of personal challenge and tumult in recent months, Yearby is squarely in the mix to become Miami’s go-to running back this fall. He was suspended for the Hurricanes’ spring game for a violation of team rules, then took what essentially amounted to a leave of absence - with coach Al Golden’s blessing - a few weeks ago, while some wondered if he was gone for good.
Instead, he says he’s stronger than ever. And he just doesn’t mean in a physical sense.
“My dad wasn’t there for me. He ran in the streets, he did what he had to do but he still wasn’t there,” Yearby said quietly as he fidgeted in his seat, looking down, his voice barely above a whisper. “He never spent time with me, never even threw a football with me, not once that I can recall. I just want to show my kids a different life and make sure they know that their dad loves them and that I’m there.”
So that’s why, when he has even the tiniest bit of free time during training camp, he goes and sees his kids.
The daughter is just a baby. The son, he already wants to be a football player. More specifically, he wants to be like his dad.
“Right now, he breathes, eats and sleeps football,” Yearby said. “Every time he gets the phone or on the iPad, he wants to watch Daddy. That tells me my son looks up to somebody.”
There are some parallels to his own youth there.
When Yearby was about the same age as his son is now, he would sleep with a football as if it was a teddy bear. He would watch games and try to simulate what he was seeing on the television screen. He would hear stories of how his father was a pretty good ballplayer.
But that father-son dynamic essentially stopped there. It’s been a long time since Yearby even saw his father, since he’s been prohibited from visiting him in jail.
“He doesn’t want me to come see him,” Yearby said.
His father figures have been many over the years. His brother, who got him into football, was maybe the first true one. Golden, whose support has been steadfast, is another. Offensive coordinator James Coley, who recruited Yearby to Florida State and then saw the Miami native change his mind when Coley left the Seminoles to join the Hurricanes’ staff, might be as close to him as anyone.
“Joe had to figure things out,” Golden said. “We knew what he was doing.”
Yearby got 86 carries for 509 yards as a freshman last season, with three games of at least 95 yards on the ground. With Duke Johnson gone to the NFL, Yearby is the most accomplished running back Miami has back in 2015.
“When I was away from the team I was missing it, every day, every hour,” Yearby said. “The good thing about my team is they don’t ask a lot of questions. They’re just glad I’m back.”
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