Northeast Times

What’s in a name?

  • Rise up: Father Judge junior Yeedee Thaenrat showed off his skills in the defensive backfield during a recent Crusaders practice. He enjoyed a breakout sophomore season on both sides of the ball and already has a scholarship offer in hand from Rutgers University. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Rise up: Father Judge junior Yeedee Thaenrat showed off his skills in the defensive backfield during a recent Crusaders practice. He enjoyed a breakout sophomore season on both sides of the ball and already has a scholarship offer in hand from Rutgers University.

Be­fore get­ting to the blaz­ing speed that made him a two-way sen­sa­tion as a Fath­er Judge sopho­more, as well as the God-giv­en foot­ball skills that already have him on the radar of a Big Ten pro­gram, we must first talk about that name:

Yeedee.

It rolls off the tongue as smoothly as his abil­ity to break away for a long touch­down run, and catches the eye as quickly as he jumps an op­pos­ing re­ceiv­er’s route in the de­fens­ive back­field.  

What’s in a name, you ask? In Yeedee Thaen­rat’s case, a lot, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the unique jour­ney he’s taken to be­come the star of the Cru­sader foot­ball pro­gram.

“My name? I like it a lot, be­cause it’s dif­fer­ent. You see that name, and you just know it’s me,” Thaen­rat said dur­ing a break in Fri­day’s prac­tice. “I think I’m the only one in the U.S. named Yeedee. It sep­ar­ates me from every­body.”

Yeedee said his name means “wel­come” in Thai. His fath­er comes from Thai­l­and, though he met Yeedee’s moth­er in Liber­ia, where he was born. Un­rest in the war-torn west Afric­an na­tion sep­ar­ated Yeedee from his par­ents in the late ‘90s, with Yeedee’s fath­er mov­ing back to his nat­ive coun­try; to­geth­er with his grand­moth­er, aunt, uncle, sis­ters and young­er broth­er, Yeedee mi­grated to the United States when he was 6, spend­ing a few years in San Ant­o­nio be­fore set­tling in the Ox­ford Circle neigh­bor­hood of Phil­adelphia when he was 10. He’s used Face­book to re­con­nect with his fath­er, though his moth­er’s where­abouts are still un­known.

His fam­ily was poor and struggled migh­tily when they first ar­rived in the area (he and his broth­er now live with their aunt, the boys’ leg­al guard­i­an). While get­ting ac­climated to the area, Yeedee met some folks who would in­tro­duce him to a new game he had nev­er heard of.

“I came here and I’m walk­ing down the street see­ing kids wear­ing hel­mets and I’m like, ‘What’s that?’ ” he said. “People told me it was foot­ball, and I said foot­ball is the sport where you kick with your leg. I went out one day and star­ted run­ning around and met some people who have been good to me and still are to this day. That’s my Ox­ford Circle fam­ily, and they’ve helped me through a lot of struggles to get to Fath­er Judge.”

Yeedee began play­ing or­gan­ized foot­ball with the Ox­ford Circle Raid­ers, and be­fore long his jour­ney took him to Judge. He didn’t play varsity as a fresh­man, still learn­ing the game and get­ting him­self ac­climated in the classroom. However, sopho­more year was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent story.

He picked off two passes at safety in the team’s first game against Epis­copal Academy. Des­pite hav­ing just sev­en yards on sev­en car­ries in that first game, Yeedee showed his game-break­ing abil­ity the fol­low­ing week against Coun­cil Rock South, amass­ing 216 yards on just eight car­ries. From there, he hit the ground run­ning — lit­er­ally — rush­ing for 1,032 yards on just 141 car­ries (nearly 7.5 yards per rush) and nine touch­downs, cre­at­ing a dy­nam­ic one-two punch with seni­or Mar­quis Sea­mon. Yeedee was tied with Sea­mon for the team lead with three in­ter­cep­tions, re­turn­ing one for a score while also tak­ing a fumble re­cov­ery to the house.

His rap­id emer­gence helped guide Judge to a 7-4 sea­son, but the Cru­saders were ul­ti­mately de­mol­ished by La Salle in the play­offs. Now, with an off­season of fur­ther season­ing un­der his belt, Yeedee is ready to truly ex­plode, and he already has his first schol­ar­ship of­fer in hand from Rut­gers, likely the first of many to come call­ing for his ser­vices.

“I nev­er dreamt of play­ing in the NFL,” said Yeedee, who views him­self as a de­fens­ive play­er in col­lege. “For me, my goal was al­ways to be the first kid in my fam­ily to go to col­lege. Be­ing here at Fath­er Judge and blessed with my God-giv­en tal­ents, I’m go­ing to be the first one to make it.”

Per­haps be­cause of all he’s been through, Yeedee seems ma­ture bey­ond his ju­ni­or class stand­ing. He of­fers thought­ful, in-depth re­sponses to any ques­tion he’s asked, and his out­spoken, con­fid­ent nature had his team­mates already look­ing to him for vo­cal lead­er­ship last year. Now, as Judge’s top dog on both sides of the ball, he’s ready to take the Cru­saders on his back and go toe-to-toe with La Salle, St. Joseph’s Prep and Ro­man.

“I star­ted get­ting louder in nature when I star­ted feel­ing the game and lov­ing the game,” he said. “When you love the game, everything falls in­to place. Me speak­ing up, I’ve felt I’ve al­ways done that. It’s my per­son­al­ity, my smile. I’m al­ways smil­ing be­cause I love to lead. When Mar­quis and the oth­er seni­ors left, I star­ted think­ing right away about what more I could do for the team. He (Sea­mon) would al­ways tell me there’s no per­fect game, you’re go­ing to get beat on routes. He taught me to be calm and just make sure the ef­fort was per­fect.

“Judge, we’ve been the un­der­dogs for the longest time. But we’re a win­ning team that’s build­ing something here. This year, we want to run with those big dogs. We’ll sur­prise teams.”

Mike McKay, en­ter­ing his second sea­son as Judge’s head coach, has been a Yeedee ad­mirer from day one, not­ing his phys­ic­al speed and style on both sides of the ball.

“I real­ized im­me­di­ately how spe­cial his tal­ents were,” McKay said. “He con­tin­ues to get bet­ter each week. He has grown up in the 16 months I’ve known him, in his per­son­al life and on the foot­ball field. He knows eyes will be on him. He is step­ping up as a lead­er, and un­der­stands that those who look up to him will fol­low. His de­term­in­a­tion to be the best he can be sep­ar­ates him from oth­ers.”

With his mat­ur­a­tion comes the real­iz­a­tion that the more suc­cess Yeedee has in­di­vidu­ally, the more good things will come Judge’s way, too. He praised team­mates on both sides of the ball dur­ing a 30-minute in­ter­view, mak­ing sure to ac­cen­tu­ate that this was by no means a one-man show, even if every­body will be look­ing at him in 2014. 

That’s the way he wants it.

“My of­fens­ive line is chant­ing in the lock­er room for me to get to 2,000 yards rush­ing, but I’m think­ing 1,700-1,800 if I stay healthy. Maybe something like 20 touch­downs,” Yeedee said, mak­ing it sound as simple as he of­ten makes it look. “This year, my team­mates have the fire in them, and I’m amazed at how far they’ve come. We kept ask­ing all off­season when foot­ball was go­ing to come, and now it’s al­most here. We’ll treat every game like a cham­pi­on­ship game and ask the play­ers to give a per­fect ef­fort. If we give 100 per­cent every time, we can do something this year.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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