Patriots Lineman Understands Hard Work
By Ricky Popolizio
Billy Yates is one of the eight players currently on the New England Patriots practice squad. The offensive guard is very religious, and his life is a feel good story to tell. The 6'2" 305 pound Yates is beginning his third year in the NFL, and has not yet developed into a starter, but life is good for the 25 year old. He is where he is because of faith, determination, hard work, positive role models and a mind that differentiates between right and wrong.
"I wouldn't change the [bad] things in life because I learned a lot about myself," said Yates. "I didn't always make the right decision, and I wasn't a perfect person, but I had the opportunity to overcome those things and I'm blessed to be here now."
Yates has been on the practice squad since he was signed on September 4 after failing to make the 53 man roster cut on September 3.
"It was difficult at first, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. You just expect certain things for yourself, and if you fall short, you gotta get back on the horse and start from scratch. I think if you really want something and you set out to get it, maybe you're willing to take a step back to try to get forward. That's just the way it works sometimes."
Yates' journey to New England began in his childhood hometown, Dallas. He lived in different apartments growing up, some of which were in dangerous neighborhoods. Drug deals, gun fights and stealing were all frequent occurrences.
"I got to see some things that told me what I wanted to do in my life. I saw people around me making bad decisions and to me it was like, O.K., where do I want my life to go. Do I want to finish high school?"
Yates did finish high school, and college, but it wasn't that easy. His parents taught him to be a good person first, do well in school second, and then be a good athlete if that's what he wanted to be. He heeded his parents' advice, and in unison with his own brain, has usually been able to make good decisions.
"They've allowed me to do certain things, make mistakes, but learn form them and keep striving forward in life. I think I had some advantages growing up and I'm proud to say my parents were there for me."
When Yates was 15, his parents split up, and he moved to Corsicana, Texas, about 45 minutes from Dallas. He went there to live with his father because it was safer, and he knew he would be able to better focus his attention on his education and sports. Yates' hard work earned himself a scholarship to Texas A&M, where different experiences influenced him to begin living for God.
"God [was my biggest influence] because he blessed us all to be here, and I feel like I couldn't be anything, I couldn't be me and I wouldn't be here first and foremost. I give him my glory."
When Yates left Corsicana for college, he left behind a reputation that reflected the things he valued in life. As he gained athletic success in college, the Corsicana community further embraced him, and the recognition culminated when Yates reached the professional level. Today, the community of Corsicana recognizes him on Billy Yates Day.
"I just do same things as every day, get up and thank god for that day. It signifies a struggle, growth, and I think a lot of times we as athletes are privileged to have days named after us or get a super bowl ring. But it was an extreme honor to get that, being recognized by a city or a state really. It's something to tell your grandkids and their kids. It's a true blessing, and I never thought something like that would happen to me."
Although he made it through a rough childhood and high school, Yates knew that his time at Texas A&M would determine his future. He played on a team with current Patriots Ty Warren and Bethel Johnson, who he also went to high school with.
"Yeah, I knew both," he said. "I was roommates with Bethel, but we all grew up from being kids coming out of high school to being men coming out of college. Me and bethel went to high school and everything so I've been knowing him since the eighth grade. Just from knowing someone in the past, you automatically connect with them, but I'm also close with other [Patriots] guys."
It was at A&M where Yates began to solidify himself as a role model and one of the Big 10's best offensive guards. He became recognized for his toughness, and it is the same skills in college that he feels are still his strengths now in the NFL.
"I still maintain the ability I had in college, and right now I feel like I'm a little quicker, and the knowledge of the game, I've gained a lot since I've been in the NFL. I can recognize different things, different schemes."
He wasn't quite as expansive on his weaknesses.
"Right now, probably just me. Not to be arrogant or anything. But probably pass protection is one of my bigger weaknesses."
Yates is still young in the league, entering his third year now, but three years is the average career span for an NFL player. He has spent time with the Miami Dolphins during his rookie year, and has since been with the Patriots. He has valued his time thus far, but hopes he can make the most of the time to come.
"It's a privilege man. It's one thing when you are growing up and you weigh almost 200 pounds in eighth grade and you're trying to picture yourself as Barry Sanders or Michael Irvin, but it's a true privilege to see guys of that caliber," said Yates with a laugh. "To be in it is a dream come true. I'm the type of person to try not to take anything for granted because anything could change in a blink of an eye. When you go to high school and then you picture yourself in college, you're like well maybe I have a shot, and you get your shot and try your best each and every year, and that's what I've been doing my entire career."
Yates has learned a lot in three years and doesn't have a rookie mentality anymore. Coming into the league, he had to make a lot of adjustments like all rookies do.
"When you're a rookie, your eyes are wide open. Being in your first year, your first team, it's special because you're coming out of college. Once you learn the game and go on, you start to want different things, and a Super Bowl is one of those things. I was blessed enough to be on the team that did that, and that's something that no one can take away from me."
After a year in Miami, Yates had to again make adjustments, but this time for the new system in New England.
"Technique wise we had a little bit different coaching perspective as far as the offensive lineman coach. I think all teams are different from each other, and the east coast believes in something different. From an X and O standpoint it was pretty much same things. Football is pretty much football. Coaches might tell you different things, but either way you are blocking the same play."
New England, of all organizations, did help Yates ease into his new home. In his first year as a Patriot, he watched the World Champs win their third title in four years. Not to mention the quality of people, coaches and personnel in the organization.
"When I first got here, it was a little bit different. Of course the weather is a lot different, but I actually enjoy it. It was my first time to actually see real snow. It snows in Texas, but it's more like ice. Here you get to see piles of snow. The downside is probably that some of the people are not as friendly as the people down South, like on the highways," said Yates laughing again. "Down South we let you in if you wana come in, but it's fine here you know, I'm fine with it."
The weather certainly hasn't deterred Yates from remaining in New England. If anything, he has come to embrace the North. He explained that he is not a homebody, although he does enjoy his time in Texas.
"Sometimes you wore out the home. I never really thought about this, would I wana play in Texas? I would never be selfish enough to be like, I wana play in Texas. That's not me. Wherever football is, that's where I wana be."
Right now, football for Yates is in New England. His goal is to work his way up to the active roster in New England, not somewhere else. But he knows that more success will only be rewarded with more work. This has been the way since his early days as a kid in Dallas.
"You can work drills and watch film. There's a bunch of things you can do extra to try to help you get better. Just footwork and working hand drills, hand-eye coordination, punching, your sets, running off the ball, pad level, it's all the small things that I'm still working on to try to get better. The things I do each and every day."
The Patriots, practice squad guys and everyone on the active roster, will be working hard to rebound after the Carolina mishap.
"I'm not sure if anything went wrong, we just loss the game man. That's the big picture. As a team we didn't play as well as we wanted to play."
In the game or out, Yates will work to get his team ready this week and every week. He will earn his time on the practice squad, or wherever he ends up playing. He can only hope that his on-the-field contributions are enough to land him a starting role at some point. A religious response was fitting from Yates when asked about his chances of fitting into the roster.
"I pray that I do. I'm trying my best to get better. That's it, that's all I can do."
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