Ex-Hereford kicker Adam Yates trying to tee up an NFL opportunity

Memo to pro scouts watching Saturday's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles: As for Adam Yates, what you see is what you get. There's not much video of the strong-legged kicker from Sparks.

Yates, 22, will strut his stuff in a game that features lesser-known prospects for April's NFL draft. He fits the bill, having kicked field goals for just two years — as a senior in both college and high school. Each time, he shined. In the fall, Yates helped South Carolina to a No. 8 national ranking after earning an athletic scholarship in his final season. Before that, he starred at Hereford, where Yates left the soccer field to boot the Bulls into the Class 3A football championship game in 2007.

That's it. The kid who hopes to make the pros has made all of 17 field goals in competition — 11 in college and 6 in high school. Enough to earn his keep? Don't bet against him, those who know Yates say.

"I think Adam has a bright future ahead. I've put my stamp on him," said former Ravens kicker Matt Stover, the NFL's fifth all-time leading scorer and one who has mentored Yates. "He pays attention to technique and he's mentally strong enough to get into the NFL — and be successful."

At South Carolina, Yates' field goals were the winning points against both Tennessee and Wofford. Against Florida, he kicked three more, including a 51-yarder. Then he made one from 41 yards against Arkansas.

His worst game was his last. In the Outback Bowl, a 33-28 victory over Michigan, Yates missed a 33-yard attempt and had another blocked. He still kicks himself over that.

"The miss was my fault," he said. "Before the kick, someone said we were low on time and, instead of looking at my target, the last thing I looked at was the play clock. That's something kickers learn, early on, not to do.

"That's why [Saturday] is huge for me, to get redemption for that game. I'd love to be kicking somewhere next year. The thing is, I'm still learning. I definitely wish I'd been playing longer."

Yates' numbers, though few, are impressive, said Joe Robinson, South Carolina's special teams coach.

"He was perfect on extra points (51 straight) and his 36 touchbacks on kickoffs were among the best in the Southeastern Conference," Robinson said. "Adam came out of nowhere, had a fantastic year and is only getting better. For kickers, making the NFL is all about timing, but there's no doubt in my mind that he has the skill set to take a shot."

One of his predecessors at Carolina, Ryan Succop, now kicks for the Kansas City Chiefs. Another, Jay Wooten, had a tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A chance. That's all Yates wants.

He was a junior at Hereford when he turned to football. Soccer, his first love, wasn't the place for his live right leg.

"I'd put the ball over the goal instead of into it," he said.

One Saturday, he took his dad to the field at Hereford Middle School and tried his luck.

"He hit from 30 yards out, then 40, then 50," U.A. Yates said of his son.

Several rec league coaches sidled over to watch.

"Who is he?" one asked.

"My son."

"Who does he play for?"

"Nobody."

"Does Steve Turnbaugh [Hereford's football coach] know about him?"

U.A. Yates shook his head.

"Even I didn't know about him," he said.

Soon after, Yates auditioned for his high school coach.

"He put the ball on a tee, took one step and kicked it 60 yards," Turnbaugh said. "You could hear the ball explode off his foot. Adam was raw, but you knew he was something special."

Yates attended several kicking camps, made Hereford's team as a senior and served notice in the opening game: three field goals of 39, 30 and 26 yards in a win at Frederick Douglass. Teammates dubbed him "Das Boot."

His kickoff approach nearly drove the coach crazy.

"Adam would hop, skip and tiptoe up to the ball, like he was doing a ballet," Turnbaugh said. "We got called numerous times for being offsides. Half the team was downfield while he was still going through his dance routine.

"It was fairly unorthodox, but who am I to criticize when the ball goes out of the end zone?"

That season, Yates made six of 10 field goals and 78 (of 79) extra points to set a Maryland high school record.

In college, the redshirt freshman made the Carolina team as a walk-on and handled kickoffs. But he lost his job the next two years, gained 25 pounds and seemed poised to drop off of the depth charts when approached by his coach last spring.

"Adam's reputation wasn't good," Robinson said. "A lot of people said he couldn't handle pressure. So I told him that and asked, 'What are you going to do about it?'

"Well, he worked his tail off in the weight room, remade his body and shut up his critics."

In the Gamecocks' first fall scrimmage, head coach Steve Spurrier called Yates onto the field, placed the ball on the 42-yard line and issued a challenge.

"He said, 'Yatesy, make this kick and you've got your scholarship. Miss it, and you're out of luck,' " Yates said. "Then he got the whole team to circle around and make as much noise as they could to distract me."

Yates drilled it through.

"The ball was a little closer to the left upright than I wanted, but I never had any doubt," he said. "Then everyone piled on and I got the biggest, sweatiest hugs ever. It was awesome. I ran inside and called my dad, with my helmet still on."

Saturday night, he'd like to do the same.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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