David Yankey knows how to adjust


STANFORD, Calif. -- David Yankey, the All-American who isn't quite all American, has made a life of taking on dual roles. As the Australian-born son of a Ghanian father and a Slovakian mother, the Stanford guard began adjusting to the unfamiliar long ago.

His parents, David and Darina, moved their three boys to Roswell, Ga., from the Sydney suburbs in 2000. "I moved when I was only 8," David Jr., said, "so I didn't really get an Australian accent. But I didn't get a southern accent, either. Missed out on both cool accents."

Leaving the Deep South to attend college on the West Coast didn't faze Yankey. Being flattened in his first Stanford summer workout by defensive lineman Geoff Meinken didn't slow him down, even if it embarrassed him in front of his new teammates.

"And then comes the first padded practice," said former Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein, who played next to Yankey for two seasons, "and Yankey just explodes through somebody in the Oklahoma drill. We all look at each other like, 'Who is this kid? Is this the same kid we just wrote off?' Within a week, he worked himself up to the twos [second-team]."

Moving from tackle to guard shortly before his redshirt freshman season began, Yankey played so poorly at the outset that franchise quarterback Andrew Luck got knocked down several times at Duke. Then-athletic director Bob Bowlsby attended offensive line meetings to assess the problem himself.

By season's end, Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said, Yankey played as well as tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro, both of whom would become All-Americans.

Playing both tackle and guard as a redshirt sophomore in 2012 didn't slow Yankey down. It is unusual for a player to shift from one position to another from week to week. Yankey did it from play to play, run or pass.

Against Oregon State last season, Yankey played six positions on the offensive line -- both tackles, both guards, and two different tight end spots. He not only made All-American, but he won the Morris Trophy, given to the best blocker in the Pacific-12 Conference as voted by opposing players.

Bloomgren said it's not merely Yankey's mental flexibility that makes him so talented.

"David's ability to [perform] the dominating blocks, creating power in space, and being such a solid pass protector, so much of that comes from ability to bend," Bloomgren said. "He bends like Gumby. It's amazing. Oh my gosh ... we don't have anybody who can bend like him.

"He had a potential injury last year, when he got bent over a pile, and somebody's in the back of his legs. And it's one where you're watching it when you're grading [video] on Sunday, and I had to call him. Because I knew he walked off the field. He missed one play. I had to call him after seeing him on film. 'Are you sure you're OK? Do you need to come in here?' He said, 'No, coach. It's a little sore.'"


David's ability to [perform] the dominating blocks, creating power in space, and being such a solid pass protector, so much of that comes from ability to bend. He bends like Gumby. It's amazing.

" -- Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren

This year, Yankey remained at one position, left guard, and never played better. He anchored an offensive line that finished fourth in the nation in tackles for loss allowed (3.7 per game), sixth in third-down conversion (51.1 percent) and led the Pac-12 in sacks allowed (15 in 13 games). He became a two-time consensus All-American, Stanford's first since College Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Ken Margerum in 1979-80.

It has been a seamless year on the field, so forget all of the above examples of how well Yankey adjusts. His play tops them all. On Sept. 23, the first day of classes at Stanford, his father, David, Sr., 54, died in Roswell of cardiac arrest. Yankey missed a week of class, as well as the Cardinal's 55-17 rout of Washington State at Century Field in Seattle.

"He'd had an issue, an incident, I don't think it was a heart attack, my senior year of high school," Yankey said of his father, who was an IT professional. "But at that point, he was pretty overweight. He lost like 50 pounds and had been doing a lot better. He had seen a cardiologist a month and a half before and everything was going well. It was very sudden and was unexpected."

The only thing as difficult as receiving the shock of the news, Yankey said, was "just from an emotional standpoint, having to say goodbye to my mom at the airport and get back on the plane. That was pretty tough."

Whatever doubts Yankey had about leaving his mother and his two high-school age brothers, Alexander and Jerome, were no match for the maternal insistence that he miss no more classes. He understands, at one level, how much easier it is not to be home.

"It's tough being away from them," he said. "They feel it. All the time. I'm in football. I've got my schedule busy all the time, traveling up til now. But they are doing pretty well, finding a new normal. You can't ever really get back to how things were. My mom has really been strong through all of this. She has gotten a lot of support from the community, which has been awesome."

Two of his college buddies at the University of Georgia came home for a weekend to stay with David's brothers so Darina could fly west and see her oldest play in the Big Game, a 63-13 Cardinal rout.

The responsibilities of a son and older brother must remain secondary, as long as Yankey wants a job playing professional football, an industry where he has no say about where he will work.

"Other college kids can say, I really want a job in Atlanta, and search for one," Yankey said. "You know, I am going to be happy with wherever I'm chosen, and luckily, we have a long offseason. I'll probably be spending most of those in Atlanta with my family."

Yankey, because of an injury he suffered early in his freshman year, has the option to play a fifth year at Stanford. He is submitting his paperwork to the NFL to see where the scouts think he will be drafted. Scouts, Inc. ranks him as a late second/early third-round pick.

"Getting honest evaluation, and depending on that, we'll see where it goes," he said.

There is a photo on Facebook, taken in July, of David Yankey Sr., a glass of champagne in hand, celebrating the day he became a U.S. citizen. The family had planned to do so together. Academics and football made David Jr., put it on hold. He intended to take his citizenship test this fall. Why not? He had all the time in the world.

"I didn't talk to him about it," Yankey said of his father's naturalization, "but it did mean a lot to him, after working here for so long. He was really eager for me to do it as well."

This fall, Yankey found out, as we all do at a certain age, that we don't have all the time in the world. He intends to take the citizenship test in the new year.