If not for his pads, Eddie Yarbrough’s heart may have leapt out of his chest.
This wasn’t a Mountain West game under bright lights, with big implications. There was no crowd booing him out of the building, no jumbotron streaming replays of his missed tackles.
There was no Derek Carr throwing holes through his defense, no powerful running back lowering his shoulder and bulldozing through the line.
There was none of that — just his team and his coaches. In a low-pressure practice in fall 2012, Yarbrough felt as if he was playing in the Super Bowl.
“Even practice, when we were doing 11-on-11, when we would have to go out there, I could feel my heart beating in my pads because I was so nervous,” said Yarbrough, a former star at Aurora’s Grandview High School.
After taking a redshirt in the 2011 season, Yarbrough was eager to impress. The 2012 season opener was played at Texas — inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium — in front of roughly 100,000 more fans than roamed the sidelines of those fall practices.
Almost a year after the game was played, Yarbrough recalls it with great enthusiasm, beaming as if he’s reliving each moment as it flickers by in his head.
“It’s honestly indescribable. My first game ever, I’m still a greenhorn, we go to Texas. It’s a sold out crowd. The place is rocking,” Yarbrough said, practically yelling, even though he’s standing in an empty room. “My [defensive] line coach at the time looks at me and says, ‘You ready?’ And I said, ‘Yes! Yes! Put me in.’
“I didn’t even feel my feet on the ground the whole game. I was just out there floating. It was surreal.”
Twelve games, 42 tackles and four sacks later, Yarbrough has floated back down to Earth.
He says he’s calmer in practices. He isn’t as intimidated by a large crowd, having shaken off the shock of his collegiate debut. After a long year of seasoning, Yarbrough’s game is more precision and less chaos.
“I would definitely say I’m more calm and have more of a sense of my surroundings,” Yarbrough said. “I’m not as hectic as I was last year.”
If you heard him speak to reporters, you wouldn’t believe him.
Every answer is delivered in a near yell, with a wide smile refusing to fade, even at 8:30 a.m. on a Monday. Not only does he talk to you like he’s known you for years, he acts as if you’re both in the pit of a rock concert and he has to yell above the noise to make his point.
His enthusiasm is infectious, bouncing off the walls of the Rochelle Athletics Center lobby with each spirited response. You wouldn’t describe him as “calm.” And neither would his teammates.
“He’s just got a motor in him. We call him ‘Turbo’ sometimes,” defensive end Sonny Puletasi said. “He doesn’t stop at all.”
Don’t misunderstand, though. That enthusiasm isn’t a weakness. It’s what keeps him moving during sets of 40-yard sprints inside War Memorial Stadium on a balmy July morning. It’s what allows him to push his teammates to keep going, too.
“He has a lot of leadership in him. He pushes me,” Puletasi said. “When I’m bending over and tired during the 40s, he just tells me, ‘Pick it up. We got two more 40s to go.’”
Yarbrough says he’s calmer this summer, and he may be. But even if he has removed panic from his game, the enthusiasm will always be there.
“Turbo” will never stop reaching for something greater, one grueling sprint at a time.
“I just always want to build off of that,” Yarbrough said, his smile holding strong. “I don’t ever want to be stagnant, in my play or in my life.”
Notes: Another Grandview alum will play alongside Yarbrough at Wyoming this season, as 2013 graduate Tanner Gentry — a star wide receiver — has joined the Cowboys. Another Aurora product, former Eaglecrest safety Xavier Lewis, is also on the roster.
Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor Courtney Oakes contributed to this report