By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford offensive line/running game coordinator Mike Bloomgren gushes about David Yankey. Having spent four seasons coaching with the New York Jets before coming to the Farm last year, he knows a good lineman when he sees one.
Two of his former Cardinal players - tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro - earned All-America honors and are now playing in the NFL, although the latter is injured. As a sophomore, Yankey started 13-consecutive games at left guard last year and was named a freshman All-American by Yahoo! Sports while garnering all-Pac 12 honorable mention honors.
"By the end of last season, he was one of the most dominant guards in the nation," said Bloomgren. "He got over-shadowed by David DeCastro, which at that time, he should have. David was the best guard in America. But Yankey came along this off-season and had a really great spring ball and fall training camp. I still think he's probably the best guard in the nation right now."
Here's the catch: For at least the time being, Yankey is starting at left tackle. He figures to play there most of the game Saturday night when Stanford (1-0) hosts Duke (1-0).
The 6-foot-5, 301-pounder played tackle at Centennial High School in Roswell, Ga., and was targeted for that position last year during training camp. But when guard Kevin Danser was injured, Yankey assumed his position.
This year, he has switched to left tackle, replacing Martin. Bloomgren hopes one of his highly-touted true freshmen will move into the spot, freeing up Yankey to play guard. But for now, it's his job.
"He's just playing left tackle out of need for us, and he's doing an unbelievable job," Bloomgren said. "He stepped up as a leader, which we needed him to do, because he's one of three offensive linemen coming back with any playing time."
You will hear no complaints from Yankey.
"I enjoyed playing guard last year," he said. "I played tackle my whole career up to that point. So it was a new experience and a lot of fun. Playing with Sam Schwartzstein on one side and Jonathan Martin on the other definitely made it easier."
What has been the biggest adjustment?
"I'm going against smaller guys but a lot faster," said Yankey. "You just have more space out at tackle to move in."
The oldest of three brothers, Yankey was born in Sydney, Australia. His mother, Darina, migrated from Czechoslovakia, and his father, David, migrated from Ghana. When Yankey was eight-years-old, his dad took an IT job in Atlanta and the family moved.
Yankey played soccer in Australia and was recruited for rugby because of his size. He didn't start playing football until the seventh grade.
"There was one kid taller than me, but I was the biggest," he said.
Yankey was recruited heavily in the south, then came to Stanford for a recruiting visit. He quickly decided it was the place for him.
"Just absolutely loved it," said Yankey. "Fell in love with the school, the campus, and the athletic side, and have really enjoyed it since."
Yankey is grateful to his former teammates for helping re-establish Stanford as one of the elite football programs in the country.
"My class, we were almost along for the ride," he said. "We came in as freshmen and went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl. The older guys did a lot of work building the foundation. It's been an awesome two years and we want to keep that going. It's kind of on our shoulders now."
What is the best advice Yankey received from his ex-teammates?
"One of the things that really stuck with me since they left is something Jonathan Martin would always say in summer conditioning at the end of a run," said Yankey. "He'd say, `Get your mind right all the time.' Sometimes we'd have more running as a bonus. You never know when that extra challenge is going to come."
Yankey's forte is run blocking.
"I love that we have that identity as a smash-mouth football team," said Yankey. "We're a run-first team and want to physically dominate the opponent."
More often than not, Yankey does.
"He's a guy that really understands how to stay square and how to stay low," Bloomgren said. "He bends as well as any lineman I've been around at any level. Because he's able to keep his center of gravity down and use his hands the way he does, he has the potential to become a dominant, dominant football player."
Yankey and his teammates know they were fortunate to escape with a win last week against San Jose State.
"We put a lot of effort into the game, but we didn't necessarily play as smart or physical as we usually do," he said. "We learned a lot of big lessons. Now, it's how do we use that in these coming weeks and really work on becoming a good football team."