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Yeager ‘a-Wake-ning?’ Former FHS track superstar happy with UT choice despite obstacles


Kevin Yeager doesn’t regret turning down Wake Forest University to tackle the bigger competitive challenge as a track and field student/athlete at the University of Tennessee.

Though injuries and rugged competition have kept Yeager from even remotely tasting any of the success he devoured as a Farragut High School track superstar, the 23-year-old redshirt senior is at peace with his career while working for one last hoorah.

Yeager said he was quite aware that recreating the magic of nine TSSAA state track titles at FHS in three seasons (1998-2000) — while leading the Admirals to three state titles — was unrealistic. “I kinda expected it when I decided to go to Tennessee,” said Yeager, who for most of his UT career has competed as a top-five-to-10 finisher in Southeastern Conference competition in the heptathlon (indoor season) and decathlon (outdoor). “When I decided to come to the SEC I knew it was going to be tough.

“I knew I could have gone to Wake Forest or some of the other schools and probably been as big a star there as I was in high school because the ACC is a little weaker.”

As a result, “I feel like it’s been an OK career for me,” said Yeager, a marketing major who is set to graduate in May. “My expectations for myself were higher. I’ve gotten a lot better ... I’m not displeased by any stretch, but I’m not satisfied at all.

“This year will tell a lot, I think I’ve got a lot more potential to even do better this year.”

From a team perspective, Yeager has contributed valuable points in the decathlon toward helping the Vols stay among the nation’s top 10 outdoor programs, including a runnerup finish at 2002 NCAA meet, Yeager’s redshirt freshman season.

As for one last shot at doing something special individually, “This year I’d like to come close and make nationals (NCAA meet), top fifteen in the country in my event in both the heptathlon and decathlon if at all possible,” Yeager said. “I’ve worked real hard over in the summer and fall ... If I can hopefully stay injury free ... I feel like I’ve got a good opportunity to do that if I stay focused.”

Last season, “I was ranked twenty-ninth in the hep(tathlon), and that was a pretty big deal for me,” Yeager said.

Within SEC meets, “I’ve been placing around sixth or seventh every year in both those events ... but this year I’m shooting for a little higher,” Yeager said, adding that the SEC “is the toughest.”

As for becoming a decathlete and heptathlete, “In the SEC, the competition is so stiff that I kind of had to just specialize in one thing,” Yeager said.

But because of his versatility, “the heptathlon and decathlon were the things best suited for me to specialize in in college,” he said. “That’s kind of what I was leaning towards when I decided to come to Tennessee, anyway.”

As for his strengths in both events, “I get most of my points in all the runs, like the one-hundred-meter dash, the four-hundred-meter dash, the long jump, the fifteen-hundred meter (run).”

INJURIES

By the time Yeager arrived at UT as a true freshman in the fall of 2000, the high school track star said he paid the price for pushing toward senior glory at FHS.

“Back in high school, my senior year, I competed injured the entire time — it was a really bad groin injury that I never let heal,” he said. “When I finally did, there was a lot of tendinitis in the groin and actually in the abdomen. I couldn’t do anything without pain for a full year.

As a result, “When I first got here, I was extremely injured, I didn’t do anything for a full year,” Yeager said. “When I sat out that year I lost a lot of that confidence, so I kind of came in all wary, it’s like ‘oh no, can I still compete? Am I still good enough to do some stuff? I don’t know if I’ve lost (my edge)?’”

And just when Yeager recovered from the groin injury, “then I pulled my hamstring really bad my redshirt freshman year after really having a good first pentathlon (now heptathlon),” he said. “That pretty much had me out all the rest of the indoor season and half the outdoor season. By the time I got back I was pretty much toast, I was out about a month-and-a-half.”

Saying that dealing with his early career injuries helped him mature as an athlete, “I’ve gotten two-hundred points better every year since then,” Yeager said.

In his last hoorah before his track career ends in June, “I think I’m now to the point where I’m full speed like I was back in high school,” Yeager said. “There’s really no adversity this year, so far.”

 

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