Craig Yeast threw passes in high school and caught them in college and the NFL.
But for his money, nothing energizes an offense like running the football.
If all goes according to plan, the Franklin College football team will, on his watch as offensive coordinator, run the ball.
And not just run it, but do so with the same explosiveness as its nationally renowned passing attack.
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“I’m a firm believer that you can throw for 300 or 400 yards and two, three, maybe four touchdowns a game and not have to throw it 40 or 50 times, especially if you have a solid and committed running game,” said Yeast, who knows more than a thing or two about what makes an offense click.
A former high school quarterback, he was a star wide receiver at Kentucky and played the same position in the NFL and CFL. He is also a former college assistant coach and high school head coach whose expertise is expected to further fuel what is traditionally one of NCAA Division III’s most prolific offenses.
Yeast’s objective is to place more emphasis on what has been a serviceable, but not exceptional, ground game while not diminishing what has been a spectacular passing game.
“My goal is to have a 1,000-yard rusher and a 4,000- to 5,000-yard passer,” Yeast said. “If think if you can do that, your offense will have a lot more balance to it and not have to be pass-happy all time time.”
If the Grizzlies do strike that balance, they expect significantly lengthier postseason runs than what they’re accustomed to.
Winners of eight of the last nine Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships, the Grizzlies make annual trips to the Division III playoffs but have only advanced past the second round only once.
Head coach Mike Leonard, who’s in his 14th season at Franklin, is confident that Yeast’s innovations with the running game, and with the offense in general, can make the Grizzlies legitimate contenders for the national title.
“The first thing that comes to mind is his passion and competitiveness. He can’t stand to lose,” Leonard said. “He’s very passionate about that. That’s what excites me about this upcoming season.
“He loves the running game. If we’re going to be playing in December, deep into the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to run the football. That was kind of our nemesis last year in the playoff game we had against Ohio Northern.”
Leonard was referring to a crushing 27-22 round-round home loss, in which the Grizzlies led 16-0 at halftime but succumbed in the second half on a wet, snowy field. The visiting Polar Bears found traction on the ground throughout but Franklin did not.
“We were doing real well in the first half, but when the snow hit, we just couldn’t run it,” Leonard said. “One of (Yeast’s) big goals he’s bringing to Franklin is, he wants to improve our run game.”
But that’s not his only mission.
Besides his offensive coordinator responsibilities, Yeast will also serve as quarterbacks coach, a title he picked up when QB coach Kyle Linville departed for graduate school.
Yeast embraces the dual role and looks forward to further developing the skills of junior quarterback Chase Burton.
A first-year starter last season, Burton was one of Div. III top passers and was named the HCAC Offensive Most Valuable Player. He threw for 3,850 yards and 36 touchdowns, and rushed for a team-high eight touchdowns.
Yeast, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets and had a four-year career in the Canadian Football League, insists Burton hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling.
“He has a chance to be All-American,” Yeast said. “I think he has a chance to be a finalist and even win (the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded to Div. III”s to player). I don’t approach it as I’m the quarterback guru, because I’m not by any means. But at the same time, I know what works.
“I know what we work on on a daily basis, and it’s about the little details, just focusing in on all the things you need to do as a quarterback to be successful. That’s kind of what I do.”
THE YEAST FILE
Name: Craig Yeast
Born: Danville, Kentucky
High school: Harrodsburg (Kentucky) (1995)
College: University of Kentucky (1999)
Coaching career: Has been a head coach at Bryan Station High School in Lexington, Kentucky and at Freemont Ross High School in Freemont, Ohio and was an assistant coach at Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio.
Pro career: Was selected in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals; played two season with the Bengals (1999-2000); played one season with the New York Jets (2001); played four seasons with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL (2002-2006) and one season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL (2008).
Family: Wife, Tori; son, Russ, 16; daughter, Kiyah, 13