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It'll be waiting game for Yates during NFL draft

Mail Tribune file photo

On the eve of the NFL draft, record-setting Southern Oregon University running back Griff Yates isn't running.

He's pacing.

I'm feeling the butterflies already because I don't know what's going to happen this weekend, says Yates, the leading career and single-season rusher in SOU history, who is viewed as a possible sixth- or seventh-round selection.

The seven-round draft will be Saturday and Sunday.

This is something to be nervous about, says Yates. There's a lot on the line. This (playing pro football) is my lifelong dream. It's my priority to do it right now.

Yates, 23, has commanded increasing interest from at least six NFL teams as the draft approaches.

And at least one Canadian Football League team (Winnipeg) is interested in signing Yates, says his agent, Bill Heck of Corvallis.

I'd say that could happen, but Griff wants to see what happens down here first and go from there, says Heck. I'd say it's about 50-50 whether he will get drafted.

If it doesn't happen, then we'll have to get busy and get him a chance to try to make a team as a free agent.

The draft begins at 9 a.m. Saturday and will be televised live on ESPN.

Rams.

The Rams called me and asked the name of the airport here (Rogue Valley International), says Yates. I guess they're thinking about flying me somewhere.

The Seahawks have also stepped up interest after seeing the results of Yates' physical testing in the NFL combine.

They flew me up to Seattle two weeks ago, he says. It was cool to get a look at the kind of life I want.

Yates, who suffered a severely dislocated left wrist last season, finished his SOU career with 4,557 yards rushing and 57 touchdowns.

The Seahawks called a few days ago and wanted to know how my wrist is and wanted to know what number they can reach me at Saturday, says Yates. Other teams, like the Rams and 49ers, have called to see where I'll be over the weekend and what number I'll be at. I'll be waiting impatiently for the phone to ring.

Southern Oregon coach Jeff Olson says the Rams' interest in Yates has been spurred by former SOU football player Brandon Schwab, a scout in the Rams' organization.

I've talked to Brandon several times lately, and I know the Rams are very interested in drafting Griff, says Olson. They won't take a guy just because one of their scouting people likes him or knows him. He has to be for real.

Jayson Tonkin, fitness director for Superior Athletic Club, has been working with Yates during the last two months. Tonkin got word from Heck that Yates impressed teams at the NFL combine with his strength, speed and athletic ability.

He tested physically beyond the major-college level for a player and in the NFL draftable level, says Tonkin. He did 22 reps (repetitions) in the bench press at 225 pounds and ran his 40s (40-yard dashes) in the low 4.5s or lower. I think he surprised several scouts with his athletic ability.

Yates says he ran a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash for the Seahawks.

Since I've had him here at Superior, we've been working on plyometrics and weight lifting, says Tonkin. He's a great athlete and very gifted.

We were also able to increase his vertical jump and broad jump for the combine tests. His agent told me he tested pretty much off the charts for a guy his size and body weight in the combines, and he's pretty jazzed about Griff's situation.

Yates says he plans to watch the draft on television for most of Saturday and Sunday.

I'll be doing some pacing, he says. I expect to get drafted.

Olson says the 49ers are the only NFL team that hasn't come to Ashland to test Yates and watch film of game action.

The interesting thing is that they have shown as much interest in him as anybody in the last few weeks, says Olson.

Four Southern Oregon players have been drafted by NFL teams through the years, the most recent being linebacker Andy Katoa in the ninth round by the San Diego Chargers in 1990.

Prior to that, running back Jeff Beathard went to Washington with the final pick of the 1987 draft, kicker Greg Enright went to Cincinnati in the 15th round in 1974 and wide receiver Doyle Branson went to Oakland in 1962.

Griff Yates (22) might go in the latter stages of the NFL draft.