Craig Yeast has never been one to listen to the skeptics.
He'd no doubt be considerably richer if he had a dollar for every time someone told him he was too small to play football. And yet the former Harrodsburg High School star became the all-time leading receiver (in catches and yards) at the University of Kentucky and now ranks number two to Randall Cobb on the all-time touchdown list, before heading off to play professional football for several years.
This past summer, Yeast took on another challenge--his first head coaching job, for a Bryan Station team that won only one game last season. Six games into his rookie season as a head coach, Yeast has guided his team to a 4-1 record. Last Friday, the Defenders won the first city game of the year, rallying from a 22-6 deficit to defeat Tates Creek.
Yeast says changing the mindset on his team started with demanding more.
"To be honest with you, when I came in, I was very, very tough. I tried to change the mindset and get the kids to understand, if you want to win and want to be successful, you have to work hard and be disciplined when you do it. The staff, we have worked diligently with our kids to try and change the mindset and those are the things--work hard and be disciplined and understand what you need to be doing and just do right. That was one of the main things for us was to enstill in them," said Yeast.
Yeast's final two seasons at UK coincided with the arrival of coach Hal Mumme and his "Air Raid" offense and the emergence of Tim Couch as a prolific passing quarterback. The "Couch-to-Yeast" pass that sealed the historic win over Alabama in 1997 is one of the famous plays in Wildcat football history but Yeast says he has learned that a coach has to fit his system to his talent.
"We aren't running the air raid. We are not in the position to line up and throw the ball every play, but we do have a system that we open it up a little bit," he said. "We run the ball and our mindset is that we are going to take what the defense gives us and if we need to throw the football, we will. We are a no-huddle football team, so the things I learned in college and in coaching have rubbed off on me and it makes things easier when you have the athletes."
Before the win in Yeast's first game, the Defenders did not have a good week of practice. Yeast said he had a "heart-to-heart" with them and he was pleased to see the passion with which they responded on Friday night.
"It's funny because when you get into coaching-- I had Hal Mumme say this to me when I first got into coaching--as a player, it's all about the game and as a coach, it's about the practice," Yeast noted
Mumme is one of several coaches whom Yeast turns to for his advice.
"One of the main guys that I have always talked to was my high school coach, (former UK administrator) Alvis Johnson. A lot of the things I do, or moves I have made, he is one of the guys I have always consulted. Our superintendendant was a coach, and I could give him a call. I speak with Hal Mumme on a regular basis. I talk to Tony Franklin. I am really good friends with Mark Berry at Central Hardin and I worked with him at Washington County, but those are just a few of the guys I work with on a regular basis that have helped me out in my journey," Yeast said.
Yeast was touched by all of the text messages and phone calls he received from former teammates and coaches after that win in his first game.
"It's good to have people behind me," he said, "that want to see me succeed."
Back in his playing days at Kentucky, coaching was not something Yeast ever considered.
"When I was in Kentucky, I thought I would play football forever and I that I would never be a football coach. It wasn't until my playing career began in Canada when I was up there a few years, I was asked by some coaches up there if I'd be interested in coaching some high school football and I agreed to do it," Yeast explained. " I enjoyed it and when I retired and came home, once I started coaching, I fell in love with it and knew that's what I wanted to do."
And has always been the case with Yeast, he's a natural.