The fascination with a thumb makes sense for North Carolina fans; after all, Ty Lawson's right big toe dominated the national headlines over the final five weeks of the basketball season. That a toe and a thumb could drum up such heavy discussion in a two-month period is laughable, but it is what it is.
On that fateful Wednesday afternoon nine days ago, the Tar Heels congregated at a park off Highway 54 in Chapel Hill, better known as "The Farm," for its annual "Backyard Battle." The football players split up into 10 teams, and engaged in highly-competitive games of ultimate Frisbee, dodgeball, volleyball and whiffle ball.
"We're a group of really competitive guys, and no matter what game you throw in front of us, we're going to compete to the fullest," Yates said. "It's kind of funny how competitive we are in even the most leisurely of sports, so I guess I was a casualty of that."
Rising red-shirt senior linebacker Kennedy Tinsley – all 220 pounds of him – is responsible for administering the hit that put Yates' right thumb in a splint for nearly six weeks.
"We were both running pretty fast and just ran into each other," Yates said. "I just hit his forearm, and he hit my thumb. It definitely didn't happen catching a frisbee… We were just getting a little too physical."
Fortunately for the North Carolina program, the fluke injury couldn't have happened at a better time, as football activities have been at a minimum due to the current exam schedule. Yates' final exam is Saturday, and then he will head home on break until reporting back to campus for meetings on May 11.
"We're taking every precaution just to make sure that my thumb is as strong as possible," Yates said, who missed six games in 2008 with a broken ankle and had postseason shoulder surgery in 2007. "We don't want to risk anything."
The training staff will take another look at the thumb in three weeks to check its strength. Yates indicated that he will "at most" miss one week of 7-on-7 drills, but that's all.
When asked if he was aware that the thumb news had made it on the ESPN ticker, the Marietta, Ga. product just shook his head.
"Yeah, I heard – don't worry, I hear about it from all angles," Yates said.
His teammates, as expected, have been at the forefront of the jokes and jabs.
"How do you get hurt playing frisbee?" junior running back Shaun Draughn said, laughing.
Junior wide receiver Greg Little answered a question about the thumb injury in a different manner, providing a heavy dose of sarcasm.
"We kind of have to pamper him a little bit," Little joked. "He's the quarterback – he can't really be touched in practice. And not only in practice, but we can't touch him off the field, either. He's kind of fragile."
Yates will be ready for summer workouts, as well as fall camp in August. While some athletes are not permitted to snowboard or ride motorcycles in the offseason, frisbee may be added to the red-shirt junior's "what not to do" list.