Yelk hopes for a happy ending to his ISU career

There aren't many people who have been around the ISU football program longer than Tony Yelk. His tenure with the Cyclones is longer than six of the current ISU coaches and he's outlasted athletics director Bruce Van De Velde's five year reign with the University. There isn't much Yelk hasn't been apart of in his six years with Iowa State.

Tony Yelk's ISU career has been well documented; it's definitely had its ups and its downs.


First there were honors; Yelk was a first-team freshman all-American and all-Big 12 (The Sporting News) selection in 2001.


Then there was the controversy; was Yelk's 47-yard field goal with 46 seconds left against Alabama in the 2001 Independence Bowl wide right or did it just pass inside the uprights?


Then came success; although Yelk was recruited to be a place-kicker he became one of Iowa State's all-time best punters over the next two seasons. His 42.3 yards on 164 career punts is the second-best mark in ISU history.


Then a nagging hip flexor injury flared up and caused Yelk to miss the 2004 season.


Then came the doubters; was Yelk really injured? Was he faking it? Was he just sitting out trying to improve his NFL Draft status?


Yelk heard all of the rumors and he was determined to put to rest the cynics. The paperwork was filed and Iowa State's plea to the NCAA had been acknowledged - the ruling came back faster than expected. Last February Yelk was granted that sixth year of eligibility.


"It's definitely been a blessing and you just cherish everyday you go out there," Yelk said. "When you get in the grind of things you kind of take things for granted, but when you get that taken away from you it kind of helps you rededicate yourself to the game. It's fun going out there every day with the guys."


Yelk, aka gramps or Van Wilder as some of his teammates have begun calling him, is back and ready to get down to business. Yelk said this preseason has been the most competitive he's seen in his six years.


"With those guys [Culbertson and Blankenship, etc.] having a year of experience and been through the ropes [it's been competitive]," Yelk said. "It's been pretty tough. I know the coaches haven't made any decisions yet, I hope it's a good problem they have. I think everybody had a pretty good camp and campaign respectively."


With all that Yelk has been through understanding and practice has helped him the most.


"I've always felt experience is the best teacher and I feel that's helped me progress through my career," he said. "It's probably true at any stage – a lot of times your seniors are playing better football or the best they've played."


Yelk isn't sure where he'll fit in with this year's Cyclones – he just hopes he can find a way out to the field - any way.


"I think there's no doubt my attributes are with the kickoffs and the punting, just from a leg strength stand point," Yelk said. "I feel I get good hang time on my punts. History is history, I haven't been the most successful in the kicking department and everybody knows that."

Yelk said there's just one thing he's looking forward to in his final go-round with the Cyclones.


"I guess if there's one thing I could put my finger on it'd be just to go out every week and watch the team be successful and be a part of it," Yelk said. "We're all a part of this thing, but it's a lot more fun to enjoy it when you're out on the field."


Asked what he'd been doing if he hadn't been granted the additional year of eligibility, Yelk joked he'd be packing groceries somewhere.


"It's a good question," Yelk said. "I started doing some job searches and I really don't know. Everything kind of unraveled so quickly…I already had my degree and started to do some job searching and I really thought it might be over. The dream might have just popped and all of a sudden the real world is here.


"At that point I still wasn't healthy. There were moments when I was like ‘am I ever going to get better?' It was that slow and gradual of a healing process, it just gets mentally straining."


Yelk enrolled last spring in Iowa State's Masters Degree program and he's halfway done with his degree in higher education.


"I'd like to get into teaching and coach," he said. "That way it kind of opens a lot of doors up – from a community college standpoint to high schools to college. The Masters Degree is a good ticket. It's been a good opportunity and there's a lot of things I'll be able to take out of this sixth year. Hopefully there's some positives that come with the football aspect too."


Just last week Yelk hit a 52-yard field goal at the end of an ISU scrimmage suggesting he's definitely back.


"It was good," he said. "I guess every time you go out and do your job successfully it doesn't matter if it's an extra point, or a long punt or a 52-yarder. It doesn't matter just as long as you do it successfully. You come off the filed with a little extra swagger when you hit a long one like that, but it was good I was just happy to go in there and do my job."

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