If Colorado State has the ball inside the five-yard line, you can bet Todd Yert will get the call--it's almost as certain as the winter snows that fall in the Rocky Mountains above the university in Fort Collins, Colo.
It's nothing new for Yert, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound fullback who still shares the Mission Viejo High School record for touchdowns in a game with five. With three touchdowns--all on one-yard runs--in Colorado State's 38-20 victory over Texas El Paso last Saturday, Yert moved ahead of former Colorado State and Los Angeles Ram running back Lawrence McCutcheon into fourth place on the school's career scoring list with 168 points. McCutcheon had 164 points. Steve Bartalo leads with 294 points. Yert, who has started for four years, has eight games left to move up the list.
"He's a big guy who just fights and scratches for everything he gets, and when he gets down to the two, he can smell the end zone," said Tim Salem, Colorado State running backs coach.
Yert said he enjoys fighting for yards near the end zone. He says he does whatever he can to score, "even if you have to hit your own guys in the back to get them out of the way."
These days, Yert's touchdowns are more meaningful than they were in his first two seasons as a starter. With former Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce taking over last season, the Rams went 5-5-1 after winning two games in the previous two years.
This year, Colorado State has won three of its first four games, its best start since going 5-0 in 1977.
The promise of being able to start immediately helped Yert decide to accept the scholarship offer from Colorado State.
"A lot of freshmen play, but not many start consistently for a whole year. I thought that it would be great if I could do that for four years," Yert said.
Running backs Gregg Battle and Bartalo, the school's all-time leading rusher, played out their eligibility during Yert's redshirt freshman year. During that year, other than the few plays he ran in practice, Yert mostly watched from the sideline and lifted weights, preparing for the day when he would become a starter.
For the two seasons the Rams struggled, Yert averaged four yards a carry and was second on the team in rushing each year, despite missing four games of his sophomore season because of an ankle injury. In a game against Hawaii as a freshman, he set a school record with four rushing touchdowns, a mark he tied last year in the Rams' 42-14 victory over Cal State Fullerton.
After Bruce took over the team, Yert, who had caught 45 passes in his first two seasons, was used more as a blocker and rusher and less as a receiver. He caught only six passes last season, but helped tailback Tony Alford rush for more than 1,000 yards. Yert rushed for 624 yards and was an all-Western Athletic Conference honorable mention.
He also rushed for more than 100 yards in a game for the first time in his career, but that performance--101 yards in 18 carries against Utah--was certainly an anomaly for Yert, who usually doesn't find too many large holes to run through.
"He's a throwback to a Woody Hayes-type of fullback, three or four yards and a cloud of dust," said Tim Hermann, defensive coordinator at Montana State who watched Yert rush 18 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns against his team in a 41-5 Rams' victory Sept. 8.
"He's going to pound you," Hermann said. "He doesn't have overall speed, I don't think, but he has explosiveness that gets him into the hole."
It was against Montana State that Yert had his longest run of this season--28 yards--before being tackled from behind at the 5.
"I was trying to pull off the high-step thing but it didn't work," said Yert, laughing. "I don't get a lot of experience with open field running."
Yert hasn't run a lot in an open field since 1985, his last season at Mission Viejo. He rushed for about 1,400 yards as Mission Viejo advanced to the Southern Section Southern Conference championship game, where the Diablos lost to Santa Ana.
In high school, Yert would bowl over defenders with his running style. Former Mission Viejo Coach Bill Crow said he remembers Yert asking to lift weights at night.
"We had to slow him down a bit," Crow said. "He was an example of how if you just get in there and work, it will pay off."
The payoff--a football scholarship to Colorado State--should also allow Yert to become the first one in his family to graduate from college. Last summer, he stayed in Fort Collins taking classes in order to stay on schedule to graduate with a social science degree in the spring.
His mother, Shirley, who raised four children as a single parent after she and her husband were divorced in the 1960s, is experiencing this season with Todd, her youngest child. She has attended all of Colorado State's games this season and will be in Fayetteville on Saturday when the Rams play Arkansas.
"It will be an experience this weekend," she said. "Also, I've got it in my heart that they are going to beat them."