Vaught's Views: Yeast hopes Canada takes him back to NFL

September 23, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

His team is not winning and his family is not with him, but Craig Yeast says he's still having fun playing in the Canadian Football League.

Yeast, 27, signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in August after playing the second half of the National Indoor Football League season with the Lexington Horsemen. The former Harrodsburg and University of Kentucky standout is hoping his play will earn him a spot back in the National Football League in 2004.

"To be honest, our team does not have a lot of offensive weapons and there are so many different rules in this league that we don't always have our best playmakers on the field together," Yeast said. "I'm doing the best I can to get back into the NFL. I've returned a punt for a touchdown. I've got a touchdown reception, and would have had two if an official had not made a mistake that he later apologized to me for.


"I've only got to play sparingly at receiver. Why? I really don't know, but I've taken advantage of the chances I've had."

Yeast has 21 punt returns for 353 yards, an average of 15.4 per return that is second best in the league, and one touchdown. He has averaged 20.4 yards per return on 25 kickoff returns.

He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999 after setting school records at Kentucky with 208 catches for 2,899 yards from 1995-98.

Yeast played in 24 games in 1999-2000 for the Bengals and had 24 catches for 301 yards his second season and also developed into a solid return specialist. He was released before the 2001 season, but signed with the New York Jets. He played in 11 games with the Jets as a return specialist and returned one kick for a touchdown. However, he was released by the Jets before the 2002 season.

"The NFL scouts the Canadian League and NFL Europe all the time for players," Yeast said. "I think they are watching me. I have to do my job and make sure I put up some stats that they will notice. If I make the plays I know I can, then I'll leave it up to them to decide if I can help a team.

"There's no doubt in my mind that I can still play in the NFL. I just need a break to get my foot back in the door."

He came home last weekend

Yeast was home last weekend to see his family because the Tiger-Cats, who are 1-13, had played games on Sept. 12 and Sept. 16.

"I needed a break, so I just came home," Yeast said. "It has been a great experience playing in Canada, but I'm up there with no family and no friends. I wanted to see people I care about."

That weekend trip also gave him a chance to watch his former team, Harrodsburg, play. The Pioneers beat Paris for their fourth straight win under first-year coach Terry Yeast.

"They didn't look bad at all," Craig Yeast said. "Terry has a way of making you want to play for him. That's more important than anything. If players really want to play for a coach, they just perform better. Terry has that knack for bringing out the best in people."

Yeast is now back in Canada preparing for another game and experiencing the Canadian culture. He says he understands why professional athletes don't like playing in Canada where the tax rate is so high.

He says Hamilton reminds him of Pittsburgh because it is a steel town dominated by factories and is located on a lake.

But his focus remains on football, not the rainy weather or occasional "weird" person he sees on the Hamilton streets.

"I just still believe I can play in the NFL," Yeast said. "I'm not just chasing a dream. If I realize I can't do it, then I'll quit. But right now I still have fun playing, I am a productive player, and I want back in the NFL. For me to get back, I have to take advantage of this chance and make someone else believe in me enough to give me a chance. If someone does, then it will be up to me to make sure I don't waste it."

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