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:
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.” ••