Farm boy Yanda raised for blocking

OWINGS MILLS -- Immortalized forever in the YouTube instant legend era, Marshal Yanda displayed in one brief video sequence why the Baltimore Ravens traded three draft picks to grab him in the third round last weekend. It was last September, and the future Ravens rookie offensive lineman was playing right tackle for the Iowa Hawkeyes against archrival Iowa State.

The imposing, tattooed blocker burst out of his stance and peeled downfield as if he was going after a safety, disguising his true intentions as the Hawkeyes executed a crisp reverse.
Yanda peeled back rapidly in a quick loop, catching Cyclones freshman linebacker Rashawn Parker completely unaware and unable to brace himself for the impending impact.
With a vicious, clean block powered by his right shoulder and forearm, Yanda violently snapped Parker's helmet backward and launched him a few feet into the air.
Once Parker landed on the ground, he laid on his stomach in pain for several minutes.
Yanda's stone-faced expression never changed as he waited in the huddle for Parker to get up, even while teammates congratulated him on the crushing hit. Eventually, Parker was helped off the field by two trainers and Yanda clapped his hands to encourage the fallen defender.
"That's the game of football," said Yanda prior to the Ravens concluding a two-day rookie minicamp Saturday afternoon. "The fun is that I love being physical and playing football. I'm excited to do that."
And the Ravens are equally excited to obtain a gritty farm boy tutored by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, a well-respected former Baltimore offensive line coach with a tradition of producing intense, technically-proficient linemen.
Yanda is his latest protégé.
"He wasn't the prettiest car on the lot, but he was pretty productive," Ferentz said of Yanda, an Anamosa, Iowa native and second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection whom Baltimore drafted with the 86th overall pick.
The Ravens wanted Yanda badly enough as one of their so-called "red-star" prospects that are prized for toughness, character, intelligence, durability and passion that they traded their fourth-round pick (101st overall) along with the 161st and 203rd overall selections to land him in the third round.
"He's a great kid, a tough guy and very intelligent," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "He has all the makings of a great offensive lineman."
Yanda developed his hard-scrabble work ethic the old-fashioned way: growing up on his parents' dairy farm.
He and his sister used to get up at 6 a.m. before school to do chores. As a ritual, Yanda still goes back to help his parents, John and Ruth Yanda, out on the family farm, which is now concentrated on grain production and raising pigs.
"That instills in you when you're young that you have to work hard every day for the things you want," Yanda said. "That definitely carries over to football. You have to care right now and lift weights. That really helps you work hard for something you want."
Yanda was a decorated offensive and defensive tackle at Anamosa High School who threw the discus, shot put while lettering three times in basketball.
However, he was also a self-described slacker in the classroom who couldn't immediately realize his dream of playing for Iowa, the school he loved so much that he used to dress up as a Hawkeye football player for Halloween as a kid.
"I just did not have the right mindset in high school, and I had a lot of growing up to do," Yanda acknowledged. "I decided it was time to grow up and take football and academics and grades very seriously.
"I feel very fortunate. I worked very hard. This wasn't all a given. There are tons of guys out there doing what I did, working hard, busting their butt and keeping their head down, but it just doesn't work out."
Rather than give up on football, though, Yanda enrolled at North Iowa Community College in Mason City. During two seasons playing on both sides of the line of scrimmage, Yanda emerged as an all-region selection and an honorable-mention All-American.
An unheralded recruit, Yanda had kept in touch with Iowa assistant Reese Morgan. A game tape Yanda dropped off at the Iowa football office ultimately caught Ferentz's attention.
"He seemed like a heck of a nice, young guy," Ferentz recalled. "He left some tape, we liked it and he came back. It started out as a courtship, and we ended up getting married. Boy, I'm glad we did."
Eight months after transferring to Iowa, Yanda emerged as the Hawkeyes' starting right tackle.
He wound up starting 25 career games, including four at left guard, five at left tackle and 16 at right tackle. He earned the team's Hawkeye Hustle award in 2005, leading the way with 81 knockdowns and 11 touchdown-clearing blocks.
As a senior, he had 98 knockdowns, including that Parker knockout, and created room for 11 more touchdowns.
"I took a different path, but I buckled down when I needed to," Yanda said. "I got with coach Ferentz, and he was a huge help to me and taught me pretty much everything. He's been in the NFL, so that was a huge stepping stone for me to get here.
"It goes a long way when he says, 'This guy is a good player,' because a lot of people respect him. It was a different route, but as long as in the end you're working hard, you'll get your chance here, which is awesome."
At nearly 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, Yanda isn't the biggest lineman around, but the Ravens like his toughness, athleticism (5.1 speed) and durability. They feel like he can compete with Adam Terry for the right tackle job while cross-training at guard.
So far, Yanda has been lining up at right tackle next to first-round guard Ben Grubbs.
"I'm coming in with an open mind," Yanda said. "Wherever they want me to play, I'm a team guy. I don't come in here saying, ‘Hey, I want to play guard.'
"I'm pretty excited to be in an NFL program, and I want to make a good impression and not let anybody down. I love the game. I wouldn't want to do anything else."
NOTES: Ravens coach Brian Billick halted practice Saturday morning after a string of sloppy plays and lectured the rookies on focus and concentration.
As the San Francisco 49ers' 11th-round draft pick in 1977 as a tight end out of Brigham Young, Billick was asked what advice he would impart as a long-shot to make the team. "I don't know that I'm the one to use as an example," Billick said. "If you ever doubt that you can do this just look at this other guy, a fifth-round choice like Dawan Landry, an undrafted free agent like Bart Scott, and know that this is doable."
Quarterback Troy Smith completed a tight spiral in heavy traffic to rookie wideout Yamon Figurs, whose hands were more consistent Saturday after a shaky Friday practice. Smith looked much sharper than the first day, too. Especially in comparison to Grand Valley State quarterback Cullen Finnerty, a former Division II star who tried out for the Ravens over the weekend.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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