THE ULTIMATE JOURNEYMAN : San Diego Free Agent Has Been a Member of 10 Teams in 5 Years

Times Staff Writer

There aren't many pro football players who can claim to have been with 10 teams in five-years.

There also aren't many pro football players who left school without a college degree, then returned to get one.

So meet Billy Yancy, a free-agent cornerback for the San Diego Chargers. He has done both.

But it hasn't been easy.

Yancy, 27, perhaps the ultimate journeyman, is married and has two children. He had to make time to return to school and complete work for his degree but he finally finished school this summer at Cal State Los Angeles.

Yancy, 5-10 and 170 pounds, graduated from Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles, attended Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo and then Fresno State. He needed 24 to 36 credits to graduate when he left Fresno State to pursue a pro football career after his senior year in 1981.

A quarterback in high school and college, Yancy, who lives in West L.A., had played infrequently at Fresno State and was not drafted. But he was impressive in a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams and signed as a free agent.

"I got a tryout through (all-pro cornerback) Rod Perry, who was a friend of mine," Yancy said. "I was a quarterback lost in the shuffle at Fresno State. When I came to the Rams, I got in with them strictly because of my speed. I ran a 4.4 (second) 40-yard dash."

Yancy was converted to cornerback but then was released by the Rams just before the team's final exhibition game.

Shortly afterward, he signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, where he played the 1981 season. "I was there the whole season but I didn't play a down," Yancy recalled. "They just stashed me out there."

After that season, Yancy decided it was a good time to go back to school to complete his degree in radio and television broadcasting. He enrolled in classes at Cal State L.A. in the winter quarter in January of 1982.

"Not having a degree, I felt like I was at a standstill and I needed something to fall back on," he said. "These days just to dig a ditch you you have to have a degree. So it was very important.

"After spending all those years in school, I couldn't see letting it go to waste. It was something that was always in reach. It's the same way I feel about football."

Still hoping to make it in the NFL, he arranged his class schedule around the football season. That meant long, hard days during the school year, for Yancy also maintained a training schedule six days a week.

On a typical day during the school year, Yancy got up at 6:30 a.m., worked out in the morning, went to classes in the afternoon, then spent an hour or two on footwork and techniques after classes.

"Whenever I had time during the off-season, I took a class or two," Yancy said. "Each time I went out of school, I tried not to stay out for long. Every time I had at least 10 weeks free, I would go to school.

"There was a lot of juggling, a lot of sacrifices. I had to be away from my family a lot. I also couldn't work during the off-season because I was going to school. But I always felt that my efforts would pay off in the long run. I just had to be patient."

Meanwhile, Yancy's pro football wanderings continued when the Rams called in hopes of resigning him before the 1982 season. But first, having played in Canada, he had to clear procedural waivers, which gave any NFL team 24 hours to claim him. To Yancy's surprise, the Detroit Lions claimed him.

He stayed with the Lions until after their final exhibition game, then was released.

"I thought I made the team because I had a great camp, but the last day of camp they let me go and kept two or three draft choices who didn't even play much," he said.

Three weeks into the season, Yancy thought he would have another chance to play in the NFL when the Baltimore Colts called and later flew him to Baltimore.

Unfortunately for Yancy, he got there the day the NFL went on strike for more than six weeks. He was sent back home.

"If I had played even one game (with Baltimore) I would have been eligible for some sort of benefit," he said. "But all they could do was send me home."

That left Yancy in limbo.

"I didn't know whether to get a job, wait for the strike to end, go to school or sign with the new USFL," he said. "I finally decided to try out for the USFL, but by the time that happened I had been out of school for more than a year."

Yancy played for the USFL's Oakland Invaders in the spring of 1983 but played only as a fifth defensive back.

After that season, Yancy went back to school, where he got some bad news.

"It was over a year since I was in school and I was really close to getting a degree but the school stuck some extra requirements on me when I got there," Yancy said. "I had to take some additional classes and that set me back in trying to graduate."

He started the spring of 1984 with the Invaders, then was traded to the Pittsburgh Maulers. Yancy finally got to play in Pittsburgh, earning a spot in the starting defensive backfield.

But his happiness was short-lived. He suffered a severe hamstring injury, returned about three games before the end of the season, then was traded to the Oklahoma Outlaws. "They traded me while I was still injured," he said.

Yancy started the 1985 USFL season in Tempe, Ariz., when Oklahoma merged with the Arizona Wranglers and became the Arizona Outlaws. This time, he barely had time to unpack his bags before he was released again.

"The whole (Oklahoma) franchise moved to Arizona and when we came into camp, about three-quarters of our team was let go shortly after we got there," he said. "They kept mostly their own (Arizona) players."

It was not long, however, before Yancy found yet another team to play for, the USFL's Orlando Renegades.

"I was back at home when I got a call from Orlando," Yancy said. "I did pretty well there at first. I won a starting job but then I broke my thumb (four weeks into the season)."

And as soon as Yancy got his cast off, he became a castoff.

Yancy said that being released again bothered him at first, but believes now that it might have been a blessing in disguise.

Shortly afterward, he signed a free-agent contract with a team much closer to home, the NFL's San Diego Chargers. He also had time to go back to school and complete work on his degree.

"It turned out to be a good time to be released," Yancy said. "Now I'm with a team closer to home, I've got my degree and I'm finally starting to see the big picture."

With degree in hand at last, Yancy said he has a different feeling about the Charger training camp that opened Sunday in La Jolla.

"Now I can gear myself toward playing football without having to worry about the degree, and after the season I can go to work," he said. "It all adds to my confidence. Once I've done one thing, I can now go after another.

"I (have) a sense of accomplishment, knowing that there was something that I wanted to do and I did it. It has given me an even more positive attitude."

A strong mental outlook is something Yancy has never lacked, according to Alan Bloom, an assistant professor of broadcasting at Cal State L.A. who worked closely with him.

"He made the space in his year between training and football and other things to go to school to finish his degree," Bloom said. "There are a lot of people who would kick back and relax (in the off-season) but not Billy," Bloom said. "He jumped right in and went after it."

Yancy said he is optimistic about making the Chargers, the 10th stop in his pro football odyssey.

"It's the same attitude I tried to establish in getting my degree," he said. "If you work hard enough and if you want it bad enough, you're going to get there."

If he doesn't make it this time, Yancy said he is going to keep trying.

"I won't quit playing football until I know I've accomplished everything I wanted," he said. "I still have hopes of being a regular in the NFL and maybe making all-pro some day. But I've learned that I have to do it one step at a time."

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