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August 18, 2013

Cardinals Rookie DB, Ronnie Yell Interview

by Max Strauss

Ronnie Yell, Arizona Cardinals defensive back, is fighting for a roster spot this year. He joins a crowded secondary, and a young NFL team looking for breakout players. Ronnie Yell played collegiately at San José State and earned playing time starting games as a true freshman. He totaled over 100 tackles and over 20 pass deflections in his career. He entered the 2013 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. He was quickly signed by the Arizona Cardinals and has since attended their rookie camp and is a now on their roster during 2013 Training Camp. Check out our exclusive interview.

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Ronnie Yell : Hey, this is Ronnie Yell, a former cornerback at San José State. I am now, a current player with the Arizona Cardinals, and looking to make a big impact this year. I just did an interview with, and it was a great experience. 

Strauss : How old were you when you first got involved with football?

Yell : When I started playing football, I was around nine years old. I started playing pop warner football for my local community team. During my first experience, it was actually tough, I didn’t know anything about football really, I just watched it a lot. I didn’t really know how to play it or anything like that. It was just my first time going out there.

I was raised by only my mom, so I did not really have my dad or anyone to show me or teach me how to protect myself and stuff. So my first couple of days out there, I was actually getting tossed around, I was getting banged up a lot. I had a lot of bruises and stuff coming back home. For those first couple of days, I kept telling my mom, “I don’t even know if football is for me I’m getting too hurt out there.”  She told me to stick with it, so I stuck with it, and it all worked out for the best.  

I started out actually playing running back at that age because I was fast and I could run a bit, so I played running back. As I got older, I started playing quarterback and continued in high school as well. When I went to San José State, I finally transferred to cornerback.  

Strauss : What was High School Football like for you?  Did you play both sides of the ball or just quarterback?

Yell : In high school, I played both sides of the ball.  I played quarterback and cornerback. I started on varsity when I was a freshman, so I actually got a jump on the completion early. It was a good experience

Strauss : How good was your team in high school?

Yell : I actually went to two different high schools. My first high school, Crawford High School, was actually pretty good my first year. We won about nine games. We went 9-3, and in my second year, we won about eight games, so 8-4.  Both times we made the playoffs, but we lost in the second round. We came up short.

I transferred to Lincoln High School for my junior and senior year.  That’s where Terrell Davis, Marcus Allen, and a lot of legends went. My first year we were 8-4 as well, went to the playoffs and lost. During my second year, we weren’t too good. We were pretty average, and we went 6-6.

Strauss : You received some recognition for your play in high school, what was that like?

Yell : It was great just receiving recognition from all over San Diego county, and also recognition up in North County from a lot of coaches and different organizations, different all-state teams, All-American teams, it was actually an honor receiving those types of recognitions. That classifies you as one of the top players in the county, so that’s pretty cool for me and my family as well.  Since I’m the oldest of four, they all look up to me. That was actually pretty cool receiving recognition like that, and becoming like a hometown hero.  

Strauss : Growing up, what was the biggest challenge you faced?

Yell : I actually had one big one that is very specific. Going into my senior year in high school, my grandfather who was my father figure since I did not have a dad growing up, he passed away with lung cancer. That was actually really tough on me. I took like a week or two off from school. My mind back then was kind-of messed up, since he was the role model figure for me. That was my biggest trauma I took in high school, and took in my sports career as well, but it also taught me and made me stronger to follow my dreams because I know thats what he wanted me to do.

Strauss : Everyone has recruiting stories… What was your recruiting like for you?

Yell : The recruiting process was actually pretty fun. I got offered a scholarship to San Diego State, which is in my hometown during my junior year of high school, and that was pretty big on the boards being my hometown. As far as other schools I had pretty much all the WAC schools, then I had a couple of schools like University of Arizona, Oregon State, UTEP, a couple of schools like that. 

The big reason I chose to stay in California, because its my home, it’s where I grew up at, but I actually chose to get away from home and go up north, just so I could get away from home. I lived in San Diego pretty much all of my life, so I just wanted to try something different, but also not be too far from my family, so where they couldn’t come watch my games. I thought San José was a good fit, because it wasn’t too far and it wasn’t too close.

Strauss : What was it like to step on the field for the first time?

Yell : Well… I started a couple of games my true freshman year. And it was actually a crazy experience my first time, because my favorite college team growing up was USC, and my first game as a true freshman, was against USC. You can only imagine how excited and what kind-of experience that was for me.  My first time stepping on the field was a kick return. We were losing pretty bad and the coaches were looking to get guys experience. I actually received my first kickoff return vs. USC that year, and it was pretty cool.

Strauss : Everyone talks about the offseason in college and how it’s where you really improve your game and show off your work ethic. What were your off-seasons like?

Yell : Oh yeah, I definitely agree with that. Our off-seasons in college were intense. We had running four times a week in the spring, and then we had lifting three times a week in the spring as well, and then going into summer, it was pretty much the same deal. And then the spring game is where you earn your spot.

Offseason training for us was really important. It wasn’t mandatory, but it was mandatory if you wanted to play. A lot of guys on the team knew that if you weren’t there that you were kind of taking time off which is hurting the team. If you were there they knew you were serious and you wanted to be a better player. So, actually, for us it was really intense. A lot of guys got better, and the guys who weren’t there didn’t get better, or they weren’t on the team anymore. It was pretty intense though.

Strauss : On top of that, in the 2010 season, you got to play a top talent in #Alabama, #3 Boise State, a top team in Wisconsin as well. What does it mean for you as a player on San José State to be playing against these top talent, and how do you think you fared against these top football schools?

Yell : It was actually a big accomplishment. Growing up, those were the schools that you actually watched on TV. They get all the TV time. SEC schools like that, they’re the big schools. Growing up you always dream about playing those schools, so actually getting the chance to play against those guys and the competition at those schools was a great experience. Football down there is a whole different breed than California. Well, to me it was. I mean, they’re full of football talent. Just going down there and seeing the atmosphere that was down there spoke for itself.

As far as competition-wise, they’re a little bit bigger than us; their linemen are huge. Skill positions, we pretty much matched up equally, but where we are different was between the offensive line, defensive line, interior guys, linebackers, and stuff like that. I think that’s the biggest difference between those big schools like that is they get those big boys on the interior that can hold up or that can rush. It made it real hard on our offense, and it made it hard on our defense as well with not being able to get up and get pressure, and the quarterback having a lot of time throwing the ball, so you can tell the story from there.

Strauss : Going into your 2012 season, you had a lot of experience behind you. You played in a bunch of games. You were a Pre-Season Watch List player which got you recognition. What was your mindset going into the 2012 season?

Yell : Going into the 2012 season, it was really all about playing consistently. Being a complete player, being a senior, basically being consistent with my game, not trying to take too much of a drop off, not trying to decrease in my level of play or anything, but at least stay consistent or even increase my playing ability. 

It was a big thing going into 2012, not to put too much pressure on myself knowing I had a chance to maybe go to the NFL or make a team somewhere. It was actually a big year because I didn’t want to put a too much pressure on myself, but I also knew in the back of my head I wanted to make a lot of plays and make sure that I still stood out in a lot of coaches and teams’ eyes so that I could get a shot at the next level. 

Strauss : How would you grade your performance throughout the 2012 season?

Yell : Throughout the season I’d probably give myself about a B. Some games higher than others, but overall I’d give myself a B-average. I know for a fact I could have played better in some games, and in some other games I know I could have produced a lot more, but as far as overall, I think I did a pretty good job of being consistent. I completed a lot of games I think in a well-manner. I didn’t get too many balls thrown at me this year, but maybe that’s because of other teams watching film and stuff like that, but the times I did I made enough plays, and I was consistent enough to get up further with it. Overall, I think I did well.

Strauss : Talking about the 2012 season, you guys ended the season #21 overall beating Bowling Green in the Military Bowl. It’s not the biggest game out there, but at the same time, it’s still a bowl game. Talk about the experience for you and how important it was for you to play in front of a national audience?

Yell : It was a great experience. Being at San José for three years and not having any success as far as team-wise, and not really having any success or going to any bowl games was already hard enough. Finally, being in my senior year and finally getting to go to a bowl game was a great experience. Actually winning the bowl was an even better experience. We went down there as the best team in San Jose State history in the football department ever. Going out my senior year in a game like that was a great experience. Playing in front of national TV, all eyes watching, it just put us on the national stage, and it gave us the recognition that we really deserve and worked hard for. We’ve always had the talent to do so, but we never had the record or full team to make it happen, and this year, we finally did. It was a great experience. 

Strauss : It’s pretty amazing that you guys only lost to Stanford by 3 points. But to be 11-2 at San José State is saying something for the future of the program. Looking back, do you have a coach specifically that you think you can highlight and say you really helped you develop as a player and as a person maybe off the field too? 

Yell : I would probably have to say first and foremost Coach Dick Tomey. First and foremost, he gave me the opportunity at San José State to even start my career there. He actually even gave me the chance to start as a true freshman. He built my confidence from the get-go. Also Coach Keith Burns. He was my defensive backs coach my freshman year as well, and he gave me the chance to start six or seven games that year which is not unheard of, but it’s not all that common for a true freshman and he gave me the opportunity. Those two guys built my confidence up.

I would definitely also have to say Coach [Mike] MacIntyre, which was our last coach before he went to Colorado. He’s actually a very good coach. He tough me a lot of the pro system, so when I did transfer to the pro program I was already familiar with the terms, technique, and different things like that. He was actually one of those coaches that really cared about his players as far as school-wise and on the field, and he molded me to become a better player as well as a better young man. He was a good coach, and he was a good part of my success today. 

Strauss : After your senior season ends, every player goes through the pre-draft training. Where’d you train? What was that like? What was it like preparing for your Pro Day? 

Yell : It was a great experience. Training was something I never did. Training for six, seven, eight weeks all on one big day, our biggest interview of our life. It’s something we all wanted to do, something we all wanted to accomplish. 

Training was something I never did before, but it was also something that I really enjoyed, and I put my body through a tremendous amount of work and dedication just to perform on that one day, which was pro day. I was actually training up north at Trucks’ Training through a guy named Anthony Trucks. He was in the league a couple of years. After I left his program for about six weeks, I trained two more weeks with Adam Tafralis at Tafralis’ Training which he played at San José State in 2006 and took them to the New Mexico Bowl. He actually knew a lot of what was going on and what it took to get ready for the pro day stuff, like tips and tricks to get ready for the pro day stuff. Those were the two places I trained at leading up to Pro Day.             

Strauss : You had a lot of teams at your pro day. What was the pro day experience like for you? And what was it like to have over twenty teams showed up for San José State?           

Yell : It was a great experience. Knowing that a lot of other teams were there looking at our offensive lineman David Quessenberry, and our tight end Ryan Otten, as well as our defensive lineman Travis Johnson. You also know they also have an eye on you. My experience was I was simply there to go and impress, open their eyes a little more, and give them a little more valid picture of me, and what I can do, and I think overall I did that. The experience, it was great. I mean nerves were up. Just kind of in awe…that many teams at one pro day just made it a great experience. 

Strauss : In attendance at the pro day, and someone who also actually participated in the pro day, was Jeff Garcia, an alumnus of San Jose State. What was like to have him come and work out your teammates? Did you have a chance to pick him off during the Pro Day?

Yell : Nah, I didn’t get a chance to pick him off or anything, but I did talk to him and he simply told me that he has heard a lot of great things to say about me. That really made me feel good and really boosted my confidence going into the DB drills and stuff like that. No words need to be spoken for him. He’s proven that he can play on the highest level at a great ability, and hearing that from him was also great. But him just interacting and just being part of our pro day and actually throwing over fifty balls. He probably threw  30 to 50 balls. Just seeing him being part of our Pro Day was great, because you can see he is still having fun with the sport. He loves the sport. He’s a great guy. Just to even come out there and do that still with guys trying to make it happen like he did was a great experience.

Strauss : I mentioned to you before about your grades and everything. How would you grade your pro day performance?

Yell : I’d say about a B-. I could have run a little faster 40, but overall I did well. I did well in the bench, vert, and stuff that I knew I was going to do good on. The field drill was kind of slippery and we only got one chance to do everything, so I didn’t get a chance to put my best numbers down, but if we were to do it again, I know I could improve that grade a lot. 

Strauss : Now you have a month and a half until the 2013 NFL Draft. Talk to me about what that experience was like playing that waiting game basically.

Yell : Playing that waiting game was crazy. Literally all you could do is wait, and all you could do is see what teams are going to contact you, what teams are interested in you. It’s nerve-wracking because you don’t really know, unless you have one of those letters they send you where you’re going to the draft or definitely going to get drafted, you really don’t know so it was really nerve-wracking. I tried to actually take my mind off it a little bit and relax finally, but leading up to the draft last year and on draft day, I was just praying a lot and putting my faith in God. He actually came through. It wasn’t too bad, but ending that last draft day and still not having your name called was pretty nerve-wracking cause we didn’t know what would happen. It was a good experience, but it was also a humbling experience, but it was alright. 

Strauss : The draft is a three-day process. How prepared were you for your name to be called on day three. You were signed pretty quickly after the draft. What was that whole experience like to sign with the Arizona Cardinals, and talk about when that happened for you. 

Yell : I was on the phone all day on day three. I had talked to a couple of teams, mainly the Cardinals. The Cardinals had actually been talking to me since my All-Star game which was a couple of months back. When one of the guys called me and told me to stay by the phone, I was really excited. 

When I got that call, literally as the seventh round was ending, it was super exciting; everything I worked for finally paid off. I’m glad they took a chance on me, and I’m going to give them everything I have. I’m just glad they took a chance on me because they have seen my work. I know how hard I worked to get to this point. I’m just happy they took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity to play football. 

Strauss : What’s it like to be part of this Cardinals organization?

Yell : It’s great to be part of the organization. You’re part of an organization who actually took a chance on you. They actually wanted you in their organization. On top of that, it feels good. Being a part of their organization is great. Everyone in here is a cool guy from the equipment managers to the strength coaches. A lot of players are really easy to get along with. It’s a great opportunity, and I feel very well being a part of the Cardinals organization. 

Strauss : For a Cardinals fan that isn’t familiar with San Jose State’s play last year, how would you describe your style of play, and maybe compare your game play to someone in the NFL today?

Yell : I actually compare my game to Asante Samuel from the Falcons. He’s not too big; I’m not too big. He’s very quick and he’s very instinctive, and I think that’s exactly how I am. I’m very instinctive on the ball, very quick out of breaks, I have very good feet, and I would compare myself to him because he’s not afraid to go in there and tackle up. I’m not afraid to take chances, to take risks, and I kind of compare my game to him. 

Strauss : If you could describe yourself as any ice cream flavor, what would you be and why? 

Yell : (Laughs) I would actually describe myself as Cookies ‘n Cream ice cream, or Oreo, because my grandmother, she’s actually white, and my grandfather he was black, and that is my favorite ice cream until this day by far over any ice cream out there. I think that’s a perfect fit for me because I’m a mixture of both. So, I think that’s a perfect fit. That’s how I’d describe myself.

Strauss : The cornerbacks on the roster for the Cardinals are pretty talented. Did you get a chance to talk to talk to Tyrann Mathieu at all during rookie minicamp…you have a conversation, or no?

Yell : Yeah, actually me and Ty are really close. We actually hang out with each other all the time. He’s actually a really cool dude. He’s super easy to talk to, and we got along right from the get-go. We talked a couple times during rookie camp, and then once we started OTAs we really started conversing with each other and becoming good friends. He’s just a real cool dude. 

Strauss : For someone who wants to play in the NFL, what is the best advice you can give them? 

Yell : From the jump, the best advice I can give tho anyone trying to make it in the NFL is learn the playbook. From day one, that’s what they stressed to us was learning the playbook and getting adapted to the environment, and actually just getting in that book. If you know the book, everyone is talented, everyone is here for a reason, so if you could be that couple or few that actually learn the book, learn the plays, learn the coverages, learn the details fast, and catch on fast, and you can play fast, and being confident in your craft, you’ll go a long way. That’s the best thing I could say is get in the book and just always stay prepared. 

Strauss : Is there anything else you want to talk about that we haven’t really discussed?

Yell : No, we discussed a pretty good amount. I’m good with the information we exchanged back and forth. I had fun doing this. 

Strauss : I’m happy to hear that Ronnie. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Yell : No problem. Anytime. Anytime.


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