Craig Yeast is excited for his first year as the head coach of the Kentucky Wesleyan College football team, who held their first practice Monday afternoon. In addition to a heavy emphasis on local recruiting, Yeast is hoping a change in culture and mindset will help build a lasting foundation for success both on and off the field for the Panthers.
Yeast said one of the first hurdles after taking over as coach in December was to shape the culture of the program into one players were excited about.
“I think the thing I was most surprised about was the amount of the mindset we had to change,” he said. “I know when we came in at the end of the season, we had a few young men that are really good football players that I know because of the culture, because of the way things were, they weren’t going to come back.”
Yeast said he’s put a great deal of emphasis on attitude off the field — strong academics, respectfulness, just doing the right things — and it was a key factor in the recruiting process.
“We really put an emphasis on going after the right type of guys,” he said. “In order to change the culture, change the mindset and change the way you play, you’ve got to go out and get a bigger, stronger, smarter young man.”
Yeast also wanted to set his sights high for potential talent, even if the Panthers aren’t a high-profile school. He’s looking for the same athletes that programs like Murray State University and Western Kentucky University are going after.
“We’re a Division II scholarship program, but we don’t want to recruit Division II football players,” Yeast said. “We want borderline FCS and Division I.”
He said the staff didn’t have to look far to find many viable options, as a big part of the incoming class comes from Daviess County and the surrounding area.
“There’s a lot of really good football in this area,” Yeast said. “One of the things we wanted to do was get the best talent in this area and keep them here. That local area for us is really fertile recruiting ground.”
Between a handful of veterans back for 2019 and a big recruiting class, Yeast is ready to get the season started on Sept. 7.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I feel we have a phenomenal coaching staff. I believe that the young men that are in our program that are returning are the ones that earned the right to be here and we’re extremely happy they are here.”
As the Panthers begin practices, Yeast said he wants to focus on everyone treating each other as family. In order to find any form of success, they have to hold each other accountable and have trust in one another.
“Once we get to that point, we can go out there on the field and we continue to work and get better and put ourselves in position to win games,” Yeast said.
Even so, he said a successful first year is not really about wins and losses — it’s about the way they play each game.
“If we play with unbelievable focus, unbelievable effort, that’s a win,” Yeast said. “Nobody’s expecting us to do anything because quite frankly our program doesn’t have a history of winning.
“We want to change that, and the way you do it is to go out there and play hard, play physical, play and play with great attention to detail. If I see that in our team, win or lose, I’ll feel pretty good about it. That’s something to build on for the next week, then in the spring, then when we come back in the fall.”