Michigan State's pool of candidates for its 2013 place kicking competition grew late this week when upstart prospect Erick Yang announced that he is going to walk on at Michigan State this fall rather than attend the University of Kentucky as a preferred walk-on.
Yang was first-team, 5A all-state in Georgia in 2010, his first season as a football player.
Yang, 5-8, 155, had starred as a year-round soccer player throughout his youth playing days and high school career prior to 2010. He joined the football team for only one season and amazed his head coach and teammates, drawing interest from college recruiters.
Yang was 18-of-24 on field goals for the year, including a long of 52. His accuracy improved rapidly as his rookie season progressed.
He helped Brockwood High School win the Class 5A state championship, going 6-for-6 on field goals during the Broncos' playoff run, including four makes from beyond 40 yards during that span.
Yang was a high school teammate of 2011 MSU signee Andre Sims. Sims and his father were instrumental in encouraging Yang to consider Michigan State. Yang had agreed to attend Kentucky as a preferred walk-on earlier in the year, over scholarship offers from Georgia State, Morehead State, Valdosta State and Presbyterian.
"Mr. Sims and Andre, they have been talking to me about it, and all the pros and cons, and I just thought that Michigan State was the better choice," Yang said.
As for his invitation to MSU, Yang said matter-of-factly, "I don't know if I would call it 'preferred walk-on.' I've been accepted there. I think I have to try out in order to walk on. Mr. Sims has talked to the Michigan State coaches and helped me out. I haven't even talked to the (Michigan State) coaches about it. I don't even think they know I'm coming."
So why is this relevant news?
Well, the best kickers sometimes come from subtle, obscure backgrounds and arrive with zero fanfare. Current MSU kicker Dan Conroy came to campus as a walk-on. He beat out scholarship freshman Kevin Muma for the job last August and had a tremendous sophomore year, going 15-of-16 on field goals and earning first-team All-Big Ten recognition from Rivals.com.
Conroy will be a junior this season and a senior in 2012. If Yang follows through on his plans to enroll at MSU and try out as a walk-on, his probable-case scenario would be to redshirt in 2011, maintain freshman eligibility for 2012 and compete for the job as a sophomore in 2013 after Conroy graduates. Muma, MSU's current kickoff specialist, will be a senior in 2013.
Why take time to make such projections? Well, Yang has already delivered in clutch situations at the highest level of Georgia high school football. His outstanding season in his first year as a high school football player, indicating sizable room for improvement.
"I have been practicing every day this spring," Yang said.
It's the first time in his life he has ever devoted the spring to football.
"I think kicking a football is a lot easier now," he said. "I'm just so used to it now."
He kicked off a tee last fall, per Georgia high school rules. NCAA rules require kickers to kick off the ground.
"I actually like it better that way," said Yang, who never became used to kicking off a tee. "In soccer, you kick the ball off the ground, and I'm more accustomed to that."
Yang also excels on kickoffs, with the majority of his kicks sailing through the end zone for touchbacks. He even kicked off once with his left, non-dominant foot, to give his right leg a rest.
Yang moved to Georgia from Rhode Island in the eighth grade. He played club soccer every fall, from ninth to 11th grade.
"We would always travel on Fridays, so I was never at home on Friday nights in the fall," he said. "I never attended one of our high school football games."
The first Brockwood High game he ever saw was last year's season opener, at the Georgia Dome.
"I didn't even know where to put the tee for our first extra point," he said. "We had never really practiced extra points because they're easy, right? Well, I didn't know where to put it."
A couple of months later, he hit cutch field goals of 49 and 40 yards in Brockwood's 34-24 victory over Norcross in the state quarterfinals.
"I love that pressure," Yang said.
Yang says he has made field goals from 62 yards during warm-ups.
"It's unbelievable how hard he can kick the dang football," Brockwood head coach Mark Crews told the Gwinnett Daily Post.
Kicking in the cold weather of the north won't bother him.
"Being from Rhode Island, I'm used to it," he said.
Yang may never win the place kicking job at MSU. In fact, there is nothing binding that cements his commitment to MSU at this point. But with the importance of field goal kicking and the propensity for kickers to rise from obscurity to fame, MSU recruiting fans might want to commit to memory the name Erick Yang and his May verbal to the Spartans as a notable day for future roster projections.
A Lot To Like In Tompkins
Yang's 2010 teammate, Nick Tompkins, has emerged as one of the most highly-recruiting running backs in the southeast for 2011, and Michigan State continues to try to jockey into position to make a run at him.
Tompkins, 5-10, 185, rushed for 1,890 yards and 22 TDs last year in helping Brockwood to the 5A state championship. He says he is getting the strongest interest from Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Ole Miss, Michigan State and Mississippi State. He also has offers from Army, Boston College, Duke, Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, Vanderbilt and Virginia among others.
When asked what the college coaches say they like the best about Tompkins, Brockwood head coach Mark Crews had an easy answer.
"His speed," Crews said with a laugh.
Tompkins has been timed at 4.4 in the 40, and that clocking seems legitimate when watching him motor through defenses on film.
"One of the attributes of a realy outstanding running back is his ability to accelerate," Crews said. "Some people have great vision and can see the hole and all that stuff, but the really good ones are the ones that see the hole and can also accelerate and get up in it and go. He does such a great job with that. Once he sees where he wants to go, he can stick his foot in the ground, cut and go."
Tompkins hasn't been with the Brockwood football team for spring drills.
"He is a baseball player, so he hasn't practiced with us a whole lot," Crews said. "He has worked hard in the weight room and has gotten a little bigger and a little stronger. He is entertaining offers from all over the country and after his successful year last year, we are excited about the possibility of him having a great senior season and leading us."
Tompkins visited Michigan State during the winter and told SpartanMag.com earlier this month that he plays to visit MSU again this summer. He plans to make a college decision prior to his senior year.
Sims Ready To Report
Crews says incoming MSU freshman Andre Sims is eager and getting ready to report to Michigan State at mid-summer. Sims, who signed with MSU in February as part of the 2011 recruiting class, will graduate from Brockwood early next month.
"We had our final spring scrimmage on Thursday evening and I saw Andre and his family at our game," Crews said. "Andre looks like he has been working awfully hard this spring. He has probably gained 8 or 10 pounds.
"He is a great kid and a hard worker. I think he will be a really good player and he will also be a great kid to have on the team. All the leadership skills and that type of thing, he is top-notch in that area. There aren't any negatives about Andre."
Crews Impressed With Warner
Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner has been responsible for kickstarting unprecedented recruiting success for MSU in the talent-heavy state of Georgia in the past five years. Sims is the fourth scholarship player from Georgia that Warner has signed for Michigan State since 2007.
Warner's representation of MSU obviously impressed Sims and his father enough to not only sign with MSU, but also for Sims to encourage Yang to look at MSU as a walk-on destination. Warner's reputation and MSU's winning ways practically allowed MSU to recruit itself in the Yang chase.
"Dave has been doing a great job," Crews said. "He is a great guy and he always keeps us informed on everything. He always lets us know when he's coming and keeps us updated. He is always very positive. I haven't gotten to know him real well because he has only been recruiting our area for a little while, but he is an outstanding guy. "
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