Yarber grew up as a huge Los Angeles Rams fan, and now he is the team’s wide receivers coach.
By Jason Lewis
Eric Yarber dreams really big. Combine that with a lot of hard work and determination, it led him from playing football at Crenshaw High School to continuing his playing career at the University of Idaho, and in the NFL. His playing career led him into coaching. After working as UCLA’s wide receiver coach from 2012-2016, he joined the Los Angeles Rams this year.
For Yarber, who grew up in South Los Angeles and graduated from Crenshaw High School in 1981, coaching for the Rams is like a sports fans’ dream.
“I was a diehard Rams fan when I was a kid,” he said. “I remember the time where they went to the Super Bowl. I remember tears filling up my eyes because they lost to the Steelers.”
Yarber was a big fan of Rams legends from the 1970s, including James “Shack” Harris, who was the first black quarterback to start and win a NFL playoff game, and a Pro Bowler in 1974; six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Isiah Robertson; and Pro Bowl defensive end Fred Dryer.
Yarber’s favorite player was wide receiver Harold Jackson, who played in three Pro Bowls while playing for the Rams from 1973-1977, and he was named first-team All Pro in 1973.
“Everything I did, I tried to pattern myself after Harold Jackson,” Yarber said. “When we played football on the street, I was Harold Jackson. They just called me Jack.”
Yarber spent many Sundays at the Coliseum watching his favorite team play.
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 High School 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,” he 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 shoulders drove him to work harder than everybody else.
“Every time they told me that I was too small, it was like putting fuel on the fire,” he 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 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,” he 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 attain 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 major colleges started to call him.
He committed to Purdue, but one coach changed Yarber’s 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, attending Budlong Elementary School and John Muir Junior High School. Yarber really enjoyed growing up in South Los Angeles.
“I felt like it was a good experience,” he 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 sports, not hanging out in the streets. But he was well aware of his surroundings.
“You grew up in it,” he 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,’” he 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 a member of the Redskins’ 1987 Super Bowl championship team.
After retiring, Yarber went into coaching to fill the void in his life that football left. He began coaching wide receivers at the University of Idaho in 1996, and has had college jobs at UNLV, Oregon State, Washington, and Arizona State. He has had NFL jobs with the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, where he coached Terrell Owens.
Yarber has been fortunate to be able to coach in Los Angeles since 2012. He spent four season as UCLA’s wide receiver coach and now he’s coaching with the Rams.
“To come back home and get an opportunity to coach for the team that you grew up rooting for, there’s a sense of pride, and bigger than that, it’s a blessing,” he said. “I get to see my family more than most coaches. I get to see my grandmother once a week. That puts a smile on my face. I can’t put a money value on that. That’s a big deal.”
One piece of advice that Yarber has for any up and coming athlete is to “dream big, and never give up on your dreams. With hard work and know how, you can be successful in anything that you attempt.”
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