A Second Chance for Big Kick
Nov. 5, 2007
EASTON, Pa. - Senior David Yankovich loosens up as he prepares for his first punt of the game against Fordham on Oct. 20. He loves punting at Fisher Stadium, which he describes as "the best facility to punt in the nation." His entire family, including his grandmother who made her first trek to Lafayette, was there to support him and he had a slight wind at his back. Yankovich catches the snap and sends the ball sailing 66 yards to the Fordham 29-yard line, the longest kick of his four-year career at Lafayette.
"I don't like wind because it can affect your drop," Yankovich said. "Even before you hit the ball it affects your kick. So when that's at your back it's an added bonus."
Although Yankovich had to kick into the wind on his next five punts, it didn't seem to slow him. He finished the day with a career-high 302 yards, averaging 50.3 yards per kick. Although the Leopards lost to the Rams 34-23, Yankovich helped them stay in the game by affecting field position.
"Field position is a major factor in every football game and Fordham's punter was certainly doing a good job helping them win the field position game," head coach Frank Tavani said about the team's 34-23 loss. "David was certainly doing his job countering it, standing up in a game like that. It was one of the few bright spots."
Yankovich's Fordham counterpart, Benjamin Dato, was ranked fifth in the nation with 39 kicks for 1,728 yards before meeting the Leopards. Both punted six times in the Oct. 20 game and Yankovich out-punted Dato by 50 yards.
His success against Fordham might come as a surprise if you haven't been following Yankovich this season. He lost his position six games into the season in 2006 to Rick Ziska after averaging only 36.3 yards per kick. After talking with coaches and putting in extra work over the summer, Yankovich bounced back and is now averaging more than 42 yards per kick. He is currently ranked 15th in the country with 40 punts for 1,688 yards.
"I went into the season with a different mindset, that I was going to do the best I could and stay as relaxed as I could," Yankovich said. "If it's one bad kick, don't make it five bad kicks; just leave it at that and move forward from there."
One of the biggest improvements in Yankovich's game is his consistency. Through eight games this season, Yankovich has kicked for 200 yards four times and has never averaged fewer than 38 yards per kick in a game. The consistency has helped Lafayette stay in the battle for field position each game.
"Last year was very difficult when he lost his job about midseason," Tavani said. "That's difficult to handle and I think for awhile he was kind of bitter and angry about it but he used those feelings to generate working even harder and gaining the confidence he needed. He's a guy who is persistent and has come in here and just worked to be the best he can be at his position."
Yankovich hopes that his hard work clears up common misconceptions about kickers.
"The common misconception would be that we don't work hard or that we're not athletes," he said. "You have to be a little crazy to be a kicker because it's so much pressure and you only get a couple of shots a game to do what you have to do. If you are a linebacker, you are lining up for 60 plays. If you mess up one of 60 plays it's not even going to matter at the end of the day. If you're a kicker and you mess up one of four kicks then at the end of the day it's like the kicker stinks because he missed that one kick."
An extra confidence booster for David is having his older brother, Mark, close by for support. Mark graduated from McDaniel College in May and is in his first year as an assistant swim coach at Lafayette. The two brothers are close and David was really excited when Mark accepted the position. Despite busy schedules with their respective sports, the two make an effort to see each other on a regular basis.
"Generally once a week we'll get together," Yankovich said. "When the Phillies were on we loved watching that together. We just hang out."
David and Mark tried both football and swimming, but each chose to concentrate on his own sport at an early age.
"Mark played football for one year in junior high and he hurt his ankle," Yankovich said. "He's not that big of a kid. He's a quick kid and he has good reactions but football's not really his thing. My parents made both of us do swimming as little kids and I hated it. They said I was really terrible at it too. I didn't care how bad I was, I just really didn't like doing it. So I stopped swimming and he stopped playing football pretty quick."
The brothers are extremely supportive of each other, however, and Mark can usually be found sporting a number 83 Leopards jersey on gamedays. David also plans to make regular appearances at the pool for Lafayette swim meets once football season is over.
Pretty soon David's football career will be over and he will begin focusing on his other passion, engineering. He's worked in a summer internship with Verizon for two summers working in the fiber optics department and is planning on continuing in that field after graduation. He's already been offered a job informally by Verizon and is interviewing for a position with Victaulic. Yankovich is confident that wherever he goes after college he will be successful if he puts his mind to it - an invaluable lesson he learned on the football field.