Craig Yeast wants to clear some things up.
The University of Kentucky’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yards has seen his family come in for criticism since his son, Russ, withdrew a commitment to play football for UK in June.
“Look, I love Kentucky, always have, always will,” Craig Yeast said. “I’m for Kentucky in everything. Football. Basketball. Baseball. Softball. Soccer. If the Cats are on TV, I’m watching. But Russ Yeast is not Craig Yeast. And he decided Kentucky was not the best place for him.”
On July 28, 2015, Russ Yeast, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound wide receiver/defensive back, committed to UK before his junior year of high school.
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For all who remember Craig Yeast’s electric career catching passes from Tim Couch in Hal Mumme’s Air Raid, it was a heart-warming moment. Given UK’s persistent difficulty in recent years landing “legacy” football recruits, getting Russ was notable.
Yet, just from following Russ Yeast’s recruitment through the media and on Twitter, he never seemed fully comfortable with his decision.
It was not all that surprising, then, when he de-committed on June 16.
“There really wasn’t anything (UK) did that soured him,” Craig Yeast said. “He made the (original) decision pretty early, and these kids are making big life decisions at 15, 16, 17 years old. Russ just decided that he wasn’t sure Kentucky was the best place for him, and that he wanted to look at more schools.”
Not long after withdrawing his UK pledge, Russ Yeast produced a new list of recruiting finalists — Auburn, Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Mississippi and Northwestern. Making things even more interesting, on July 23 Russ Yeast tweeted that he was “very thankful to receive an offer from the University of Alabama.”
Since the de-commitment, Russ Yeast and Kentucky have not been linked in recruiting.
As a result, the Yeast family has been on the receiving end of some tough comments — which I am not repeating — in social media and on some UK sports-oriented internet message boards. “I don’t really understand the mindset of grownups who go on the social media and direct abuse at a teenager,” Craig Yeast said.
One theory advanced by some spurned fans is that Russ Yeast’s de-commitment was tied to his father’s unrealized ambition to coach at UK. Craig Yeast is a veteran high school and small-college coach.
According to the theory, Craig Yeast’s disappointment at not getting the job led him to steer his son away from his alma mater.
Craig Yeast says that talk is balderdash.
He said the only time he’s ever had any discussions about possibly coaching at UK was when his former Wildcats teammate, Neal Brown, was hired as offensive coordinator before the 2013 season (Mainord was eventually hired to coach wideouts).
“Would I like to coach someday at the college where I played? Sure,” Craig Yeast said. “I did talk to Neal about that because we are friends. But I never talked to (former UK coach) Joker Phillips or Mark Stoops, not one time, about coaching wide receivers at Kentucky. I have no idea whether I was ever under consideration, but I never had a formal interview.
“People are saying I’m mad — I couldn’t give a flip about (not coaching at UK), I really couldn’t. There’s nothing to be mad about. It’s never been an option.”
After serving as head football coach at Fremont Ross High School in Ohio last season, Craig Yeast is starting a new position this fall as offensive coordinator at Franklin College, an NCAA Division III school in Indiana.
Meanwhile, after playing for his dad last year in an injury-shortened junior year, Russ Yeast will be at Center Grove High School near Indianapolis as a senior. “They’ve got a chance to win a state championship,” Craig Yeast said. “I’m just hoping Russ can stay healthy. If he does, I think things will turn out pretty well. Contrary to what you read (on some UK message boards), he’s a pretty talented player.”
Craig Yeast says Alabama’s entrance into Russ’s recruitment has scrambled the picture since the younger Yeast released his list of six finalists. “But I’ll let Russ be the one who releases information on his business,” Craig Yeast said.
For what it’s worth, Craig Yeast wanted his son to play college football in the same uniform he wore.
“I do wish — in my heart — he would’ve gone to Kentucky. Because I love Kentucky,” Craig Yeast said. “But that’s not the decision he made, and it’s his choice. My wife and I, we both just want Russ to go where he will feel comfortable — and he decided that wasn’t Kentucky.”