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Eric Yarber dreamed big, which led him from Crenshaw High School, to playing in the NFL, and now he is the wide receiver coach at UCLA. Photo by Jason Lewis
Various coaches helped Yarber succeed in football, so now he is returning the favor, not only coaching UCLA receivers, but also working with players from other schools as well. Photo by Jason Lewis
“Dream big and never give up on your dreams. With hard work and know-how, you can be successful in anything that you attempt.”
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Eric Yarber is a dreamer, and a big one at that. He backed his dreams up with hard work and determination, and that led him from Crenshaw High School to the University of Idaho, and on to the NFL. He is currently UCLA’s wide receiver coach.
Yarber had to dream big, because compared to most football players, he was small in stature. Coming out of high school, he was only 5’7” and 125 pounds. At Crenshaw he was too small to play on the varsity team, so he played on the B team for three years.
“I was always one of the smallest on every team that I was on,” Yarber said. “In Pop Warner, I had to put rocks and weights in my pockets to make weight. From high school through college, even in the pros, I was always one of the smallest on the team, so I always had a chip on my shoulder.”
That chip on Yarber’s shoulder drove to work harder than everybody else.
“Every time they told me that I was too small, it was like putting fuel on the fire,” Yarber said. “I had a burning desire, and I would work and work. A lot of that hard work paid off.”
Being small did not stop Yarber from pursuing his dreams, as he went to play at L.A. Valley Junior College after graduating from Crenshaw in 1981. In most people’s eyes, football was not in his future, but one coach set him on the right path.
“At one time I started to believe what everybody was telling me, that I was too small,” Yarber said. “But a coach by the name of Dave Buchanan told me that I was not too small, and that I could do it. When he told me that, it was like somebody finally believed me.”
As Yarber continued to believe in himself, and worked hard to obtain his dream, he started to excel as a wide receiver. He won All-Conference, All-State, and All-American awards while at L.A. Valley, and the big colleges started to call him.
Yarber committed to Purdue, but one coach changed his mind, and it may have been one of the best decisions that he has made.
“A coach named Dennis Erickson convinced me to go to the University of Idaho, and it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me in my life,” Yarber said. “I got to see a different way of life, a different environment. The stresses of life were different. It was one of the funnest times of my life.”
Moving to Idaho was an eye opening experience for a kid who grew up near the Coliseum, and attended Budlong Elementary School and John Muir Junior High School. Yarber really enjoyed growing up in Los Angeles.
“I felt like it was a good experience,” Yarber said. “I never felt like I grew up in a bad neighborhood or in a bad environment. Not until I went off to college at the University of Idaho, then I saw that everybody didn’t live like me. I thought there were gangs everywhere.”
Yarber was able to avoid gangs while growing up because he was an athlete, and his focus was on that, not hanging out in the streets. But he was well aware of his surroundings.
“You grew up in it,” Yarber said. “You weren’t involved in it, but at the same time you knew everybody in the neighborhood. You knew who were the gangsters in the neighborhood. But when you were an athlete, they didn’t really bother you. When they saw that you had athletic abilities and athletic success, they kind of wanted to see you be successful. So it wasn’t a big thing for me to avoid gang violence.”
When Yarber left for college he found a different way of life.
“When I went up to the University of Idaho, the first thing I said was ‘just tell me where the crips are, and where are the bloods are, and I’ll be fine,’” Yarber said. “They said ‘son, you don’t have to worry about that up here,’ and that was the first time that I knew that everybody didn’t live like me in South Central.”
Yarber was still a small player, playing college football at 145 pounds, but he was a playmaker, as he was an All-American and the Big Sky Conference’s Most Valuable Player during his senior season. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1986, where he played for three seasons. He was teammates with quarterback Doug Williams on their Super Bowl winning team.
After retiring, Yarber went into coaching to fill the void in his life that football left. He began coaching at the University of Idaho in 1996, and then moved on to UNLV, before landing a job with the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. He spent three years at Oregon State, then two with the San Francisco 49ers, where he coached Terrell Owens.
After coaching with the 49ers, he moved on to the University of Washington, and then to Arizona State. He went back to the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now he is at UCLA as the wide receiver coach.
One piece of advice that Yarber has for any up and coming athlete is to “Dream big, and never give up on your dreams. Hard work and know-how, you can be successful in anything that you attempt.”