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Ronnie Yell is a player you don’t want to take your eyes off of.
In his first season with the Lions last year, Ronnie quickly emerged out of training camp in a starting role and showed fans what an exciting player he is, recording two pick sixes and making his presence known on the field early on in his career. Earlier this season, he also had a game winning interception at home against the Eskimos. If one thing is obvious, it’s that Ronnie loves being a playmaker.
“I want to be known as an exciting player, somebody they want to come watch,” he explains. “Someone they’re excited to see play. I want to be known as the guy who’s gonna give you a big hit … the guy that makes the big play. I want to be known as a playmaker to the fans.”
Ronnie first began playing football at the age of nine after watching football on television. Although he was a basketball player at the time, he was intrigued by the sport and decided to give it a try. When his mother signed him up, he was sure that he would love the sport right away – or so he thought.
“The crazy thing is, my first experience with football, I didn’t like it at all,” he laughs. “My first year I went right into pads, I didn’t play flag or anything like that. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t know how to hit, I didn’t know how to tackle, I didn’t know how to protect myself back then so I was out there getting tackled left and right, and I was getting hit pretty hard and I would go home every day like ‘mom, I don’t want to play this’, you know, and then as I got used to it, it started coming easy and I started learning all the different techniques and learning how to protect myself, learning how to deliver the hits instead of getting hit all the time, and I started liking it.”
Although he plays his position with ease, Ronnie didn’t fully transition into playing corner until his first year of college at San Jose State, where he played as a true freshman.
“When I started playing football, I played offence. When I was younger, I played quarterback, running back, receiver – all those skilled positions. In high school I strictly played quarterback and corner, so I went both ways. When I got to college, I was too short to play quarterback so they were gonna convert me to a slot receiver and I was gonna play that in college, but my defensive coach wanted me to try corner. So that was a way for me to start in college right away, so that’s when I made the transition to corner.”
It seems that transition has really paid off. By working hard on and off the field alongside a great friend and mentor, Ronnie has been seeing more and more success with the team.
“Ryan Phillips – you could say he’s my best friend on the team,” he says. “When I came in, he took me under his wings. From there, we just hit it off. Ryan has had a big impact on my career. He’s still teaching me little tips each and every day and things on and off the field even though we aren’t playing on the same side of the field [this season].”
Off the field, Ronnie has a lot of hobbies, including fashion and watching movies – but if there’s one thing you notice about Ronnie right away, it’s that he has a lot of tattoos. He’s covered in them. For Ronnie, his tattoos are both a hobby and a way to remind himself of what’s really important in life.
“As you can see, I love getting tattoos. My tattoos kind of tell the story of my life – all of my tattoos mean something very important to me. The most important one to me is the one for my grandfather on my chest,” he explains. “It’s a rest in peace tattoo of when he was born and when he passed away. My first tattoo was of my mom’s name – that was my very first one when I was 15. I also have my son’s feet imprinted on my neck with his date of birth. So those are definitely my three favourites.”
Ronnie’s family oriented nature comes as a result of his childhood upbringing. Growing up in San Diego, he was raised by his mother as the oldest of four children. Ronnie matured quicker than most boys his age, learning to be the man of the household and a protector at a very young age.
“My mom raised us, she raised as a single parent. Sometimes that was hard on her, it was also hard on us, but she gave us pretty much anything and everything we would ask for,” he explains. “Even though we knew she couldn’t get it or at the time it was hard to get it, she would make it happen. With me being the oldest of my 3 younger siblings, it taught me to be a man really fast. I had to set the example for my siblings early, basically lead by example. When it came to schoolwork, when it came to athletics, when it came to staying out of trouble, that was something I was good with and responsible with because I had my siblings looking up to me, so that’s pretty much my early childhood. I’m very family oriented so I’ll do anything for my family, especially my mom and my siblings, they’re very close to me.”
Ronnie, whose family comes first, now has a family of his own to take care of. He’s the father of a two year old boy named Kaeto and cites his first born son as his main motivation to succeed on the field. Kaeto means ‘a man of good judgement’ – something he is hoping his son grows up to be.
“My son is my motivation. This is for him. I love this game as well and I’ve been playing it for a long time, but when he came into the world, it was all about providing and supporting for him,” he explains. “My second is my family, like I just explained. Third and most importantly, for myself. I love this game, I’ve been playing it for a long time, I want to be the best at it. I want to be the best at my position. I’m very competitive, so what motivates me is just being a competitor… coming out here every single day just trying to get better, working my craft, and taking it to the next level is my motivation.”
Aside from the expectations he has for himself, Ronnie understands his emerging role on the team and works to exceed those expectations. His teammates look to him to make plays, and he’s ready to deliver once again this season.
“It means a lot. I have a little more responsibility, but it’s something I like,” he says. “I enjoy that my teammates look at me as the player to make a play. I enjoy that my teammates look at me to play well day in and day out. I enjoy that feeling. I’ve always wanted to become a pro, and now that I’ve become a pro, I enjoy that I’m kind of looked at like an impact player on the team, because that’s what I do. That’s what I enjoy doing and that’s what I love doing.”
For Ronnie, family is everything – and away from home, Ronnie has found himself a new family with the Lions.