Up Close: T.J. Yates, Part I

MARIETTA, Ga. ---- When North Carolina opened its 2005 season with a loss at Georgia Tech, it ultimately proved to be a key setback for the Tar Heels' hopes at a postseason bowl. But perhaps it was not a totally lost weekend, especially if UNC '06 commitment T.J. Yates can become Carolina's quarterback of the future.

While in town that weekend, UNC assistants Brad Lawing and Tommy Thigpen took in a local high school game at Marietta (Ga.) Pope. They were there to scout a pair of Greyhounds' opponents – not Yates, and could only stay until the half.

But while there, the coaches witnessed an unknown quarterback in his just his fourth game as a starter.

"I didn't even know they were at the game," said 6-foot-4, 200-pound Johnathan "T.J." Yates, who only had basketball offers at the time.

With his team trailing 27-0 just before the break, Yates threw a 60-yard touchdown pass – "all through the air," as he describes. Then the Greyhounds' defense stiffened and Yates led an incredible comeback in which the offense scored on all but one of its possessions in the second half.

Pope ultimately fell 46-39 in double overtime; however Yates had thrown for over 350 yards and five touchdowns.

The following Tuesday, Thigpen was in the Pope coaches' office where he spent about an hour and a half watching film of Yates. He returned to Chapel Hill and played it for John Bunting and other members of the UNC coaching staff.

"The following Sunday they offered me and I accepted right away," Yates said. "Coach Bunting, Coach Thigpen, Coach [Dave] Brock, my dad and my mom were all on the phone at the same time on a conference call."

Yates would go on to be named First Team All-Region and Cobb County Touchdown Club Offensive Player of the Year.

Yates had not even played football his junior season in order to concentrate on basketball. But 13-year college coaching veteran Bob Swank, with stints at Toledo, Buffalo State and Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., was in his first year at Pope. He was able to convince Yates' parents to let their son come out for the football team as a senior.

Admittedly, that may be the best move Swank ever made.

"He had a huge impact on our team," Swank said. "We were 4-6 and were in several other games, but without T.J., we might have won one game."

Behind an offensive line which Swank said kept Yates on the move almost all the time, he completed 160-of-289 passes for 2,305 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 292 yards and seven scores.

"He's got all the tools and all of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback," Swank said. "He's a competitor and he's just uncanny with his accuracy. Then his ability to get himself out of trouble…we had some younger kids on the offensive line and we had some breakdowns there. He can get himself out of some pretty tight situations.

"He can do it all. He can throw, he's smart and he's tough. He's everything you look for in a quarterback."

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…

T.J. Yates Profile

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