Yuracheks make next-level moves since exiting Strand

The Yurachek family has undergone a lot of life changes since leaving the Carolina Forest community four years ago, but their time here helped prepare them for their current career paths.

Former Carolina Forest High School and Marshall University football standout Ryan Yurachek realized his childhood dream of joining an NFL team last week by signing a free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints. Meanwhile, father and former Coastal Carolina University athletics director Hunter Yurachek is six months into his second AD job since leaving CCU in 2014.

“I remember Ryan graduated from Carolina Forest on a Friday, we dropped him off in Huntington (WV) on Sunday, and we moved the family to Texas the next Monday,” recalled Hunter, now the AD at the University of Arkansas. “It was tough, but between (wife) Jennifer and I, at least one of us went to all of Ryan’s home games and a lot of his road games. Hopefully now we will get to see him play in New Orleans.”

The whirlwind four years flew by for Ryan, who graduated from Marshall with honors in December following an impressive college career. He played in 51 games, amassing 143 receptions, 1,354 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns – second-best in program history for a tight end. In his senior season, Ryan was named First Team All-Conference USA and earned the Senior Scholar Award. Despite his success, Ryan had to overcome the same obstacle he faced in high school.

“This is what I’ve been working for my whole life so I’m just excited to be where I am,” the 6-foot-3, 239-pounder said of his big break. “It’s been an uphill battle since I was being recruited at Carolina Forest. Back then I was an undersized tight end trying to go from high school to college, and now I’m an undersized tight end trying to go from college to the NFL. All I wanted is a chance, and I got it.”

Ryan earned that shot with the Saints following a rigorous training schedule to catch the attention of scouts. He spent three months working out in Charleston, attended Marshall’s pro day, and tracked down teams willing to give him a look. He found the right fit with the Saints, but with a caveat; they signed him as a fullback position, not a tight end.

“The biggest challenge for me was finding the right spot for me and getting in front of the right people,” he said. “Because of my size and my ability to catch the ball, the Saints think they can use me as a fullback/H-back. I couldn’t have asked for a better team as far as that goes. They do a lot of creative things on offense, and it’s a great organization from top to bottom. The coaches, owners, front office and players have been nothing but welcoming to me.”

Ryan will attend a series of OTAs and minicamps in the coming week before training camp opens in July, when he will try to earn a spot on the Saints’ 45-man roster. He will be close enough to spend time at home with the family in the Houston suburb of Friendswood, Texas, where his mom and younger brothers still reside, and visit his father in Fayetteville, Ark., where Hunter is dealing with some of the same issues he handled at CCU, such as hiring a new football coach and stadium expansion.

“Coastal was my first (AD) job and it was a great experience,” said Hunter , who helped hire Joe Moglia as CCU football coach, opened the HTC Center and broke ground on Spring Brooks Stadium during his 2010-2014 tenure at Coastal. “ I think it helped to start at a smaller school because everything I did at Coastal made me a better AD at Houston and Arkansas.”

Now the hectic cross-country travel begins again for the Yurachek family. Middle son Jake graduates from high school next week and heads to the University of Colorado to play linebacker for the Buffaloes. Youngest son Brooks is a rising eighth-grader and appears headed in his elder brothers’ cleat prints on the gridiron. Not to mention Ryan’s opportunity to play on Sundays.

“You hear a lot about how the rookies aren’t always nice to the rookies, but everyone has been unbelievably nice to me,” Ryan said. “It’s still surreal to me to walk around and see (Saints All-Pro quarterback) Drew Brees and all these guys I watch on TV. I’m a big football fan so I still have to pinch myself and remember I’m here to play football. I’m excited to put the pads, get into these practices and show them what I can do.”

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