MOBILE, Ala. -- It’s a long way from Presbyterian College to Temple University – about 650 miles on a map, a much greater distance culturally.
“Coming from Clinton, S.C., to the big city … I thought I adjusted well. I assimilated into the culture there well," said Rock Ya-Sin, who made that leap a year ago. Now Ya-Sin is working on an even more-ambitious journey, from a lone season as a standout cornerback with the Owls to a possible first- or second-day NFL draft pick.
“Ya-Sin has ideal size, speed, toughness and ball skills,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote in ranking Ya-Sin his 31st-best player in the draft. “In off-coverage, he has quick feet, and he’s very fluid when he turns and opens up. He doesn’t waste steps on his plant and drive -- he closes in a hurry. In press coverage, Ya-Sin needs to do a better job of using his hands, and he will occasionally get turned around versus shiftier wideouts.
“Fortunately, he has the speed to recover when he’s caught out of position," Jeremiah wrote. " He finds the ball in the air and gets his hands on a lot of footballs. He’s very aggressive in run support, and he’s a reliable tackler in space. Overall, Ya-Sin has the competitiveness and athleticism to develop into a quality NFL starter.”
An NFC personnel exec said this week that Ya-Sin, a prominent talent on the South team for Saturday’s Senior Bowl, “made the most of his opportunity at Temple – the staff there, they couldn’t say enough good things about him … . This is another opportunity for him to prove himself, here this week.”
By many accounts, Ya-Sin is doing so, showing the qualities that allowed him to take a prominent spot at Temple soon after arriving.
“All my career, I’ve just worked and worked and worked,” Ya-Sin said. “To have a moment like this, to be here, just to have the opportunity … . It’s a blessing.”
The personnel guy noted that at Temple, Ya-Sin made “an immediate impact … proved himself to his new teammates,” snagging No. 6, one of the coveted single-digit jerseys, a Temple tradition for leaders.
Ya-Sin decided to leave Presbyterian when the school announced it was dropping from FCS to nonscholarship Division II. Ya-Sin could have played his senior year on scholarship, but he said his coaches agreed that might not be the best path for an All-Big South player who had pro aspirations.
“There were rumors going around school during the school year, during the season, but I didn’t pay attention to any of it, I just kept playing,” Ya-Sin said.
He might have needed to move to get noticed, anyway. Ya-Sin knows that the Presbyterian Blue Hose boast just one NFL player, Atlanta corner Justin Bethel.
Coaches at Presbyterian knew then-Temple coach Geoff Collins, so they sent him Ya-Sin’s film. Then-defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker, who has followed Collins to Georgia Tech, recounted to The Athletic how he met his new “recruit” – usually the school woos the player, not the other way around – at a McDonald’s. Thacker said he “could tell he’s very mature, very driven. He made the right decision for his career. He’s getting a lot of attention because he deserves to get it. ... He had a vision. He wanted to play at the next level.”
Ya-Sin clocked in at 5-11½ and 189 pounds for the Senior Bowl workouts, 2½ inches shorter than his listed Temple height, but plenty tall enough for a corner whose physicality isn’t an issue. Ya-Sin got a late start in football at Southwest DeKalb High in Decatur, Ga., because he was mainly a wrestler, a two-time state champion in the 162-pound class.
That also impressed the personnel exec.
“That’s pretty unique – I’m used to scouting linebackers, d-linemen, o-linemen that have wrestling backgrounds,” he said. “Not so much DBs, corners especially.”
“Rock” is a great name for a corner. His given name, Abdurrahman, less so.
“ ‘Rock’ was a nickname I got growing up,” Ya-Sin said. “One day, people started calling me Rock. It just stuck.”