THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Patriots TE Yeatman sports credentials

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / August 22, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Some NFL tight ends are great blockers, some are great receivers, and some excel at both. They come in a variety of sizes and from different backgrounds.

For the Patriots, one might come from the lacrosse field - which might as well be out of the blue.

But just because Will Yeatman’s path to the Patriots differed from that of most NFL players doesn’t mean it can’t work. Especially in New England, where coach Bill Belichick knows a little something about jumping from lacrosse to football. He did it himself.

If Yeatman survives the final roster cuts in early September, a player with an extremely limited college football background will be competing for arguably the most successful team in the most popular sport in the United States.

“He’s a good athlete,’’ Belichick said. “He’s made a lot of progress, but he’s got a lot of ground to make up just from a football-playing experience standpoint. But he’s working hard to do that.’’

The lacrosse community wasn’t surprised that Belichick took a chance on an athlete who spent more time in college playing lacrosse rather than football. Belichick played lacrosse at Annapolis High, Phillips Academy, and Wesleyan University. At Wesleyan, Belichick also played center and tight end for the football team. Both Belichick’s daughter Amanda (Wesleyan) and son Stephen (Rutgers) played lacrosse in college, too. Amanda is currently an assistant coach for the Ohio State women’s lacrosse program.

Yeatman’s unconventional path to the NFL began at a traditional college football powerhouse. He enrolled at Notre Dame in the fall of 2006, where he played tight end for the football team and attack for the lacrosse team.

After missing the 2008 spring lacrosse season because of an arrest for driving while intoxicated, Yeatman was suspended for the final 10 games of the ’08 football season following an additional arrest for underage drinking.

He transferred to Maryland in January 2009. After playing two seasons of lacrosse, he joined the Terps’ football program at tight end for the 2010 season.

“You could tell that he still had the itch to play football,’’ former Maryland lacrosse coach Dave Cottle said. “I just thought it was the right thing for him. I told him I thought he had a gift . . . and he would always regret it if he didn’t go out and try to play football.

“Fortunately, he did.’’

At Maryland last fall, Yeatman recorded 13 catches for 134 yards and one touchdown in 11 games. His former lacrosse teammates cheered him on from the stands.

But this spring, Yeatman wasn’t drafted. Then, the NFL lockout prevented teams from signing undrafted free agents.

Yeatman finally signed with the Patriots July 27.

“Will’s coming off of a very limited amount of football experience in the last three years - he didn’t play two and three years ago and last year he played in the fall, but without spring practice,’’ Belichick said. “So this year he’s starting it up again and the more he gets out there, the more he does things, the more confident and better technique-wise he does them.’’

Cottle, too, said he’s interested in seeing how quickly Yeatman absorbs football knowledge, since he had such little experience with it throughout college.

“He’s just a smart kid, very intelligent,’’ Cottle said. “He cares about practice. He cares about every day doing things the right way. It was obvious that he was just physically different than everybody else.’’

Yeatman’s 6-foot-6-inch, 268-pound frame, quick feet, and big hands make him an attractive target at tight end, but at times, coaches have told him he also could play offensive tackle. Before choosing to transfer to Maryland, Yeatman considered going to North Carolina; the Tar Heels’ coaching staff saw him as a tackle.

Like Notre Dame and Maryland, the Patriots see Yeatman as a blocking tight end. His former lacrosse teammates think his skill set translates well to the position.

“He played midfield and attack, so that kind of allowed him to be more agile and dodgy,’’ said former Terps goalie Brian Phipps. “As a tight end, if that first linebacker is going to nudge [him], Will can use his agility to get out of the way and run his route.

“He had really good hands in lacrosse. He could handle his stick really well. Stuff like that helps his hand-eye coordination with catching.’’

Yeatman is battling fifth-round draft pick Lee Smith for a roster spot. Yeatman has been playing more than Smith lately and getting more reps in practice. Yeatman also recorded two catches in each of the Patriots’ preseason games.

Yeatman and Smith join 2010 draft picks Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the youth-filled position. Yesterday, the Patriots added Garrett Mills, a Patriots draft pick in 2006, to the mix.

“Whenever you come into training camp, you’re always fighting for a spot no matter what position you are and no matter how long you’ve been in the league,’’ Gronkowski said. “Definitely, the rookies are fighting. I feel like I’m fighting every day because everyone’s pushing each other every single day.

“Will’s a great guy. He’s definitely taken the coaching in. He’s a hard worker, and that’s what it takes.’’

NFL teams must trim their rosters to 80 by Aug. 30, and 53 by Sept. 3.

Yeatman said the coaching staff doesn’t talk about the cuts, and he tries not to worry about them, either.

“We’re just doing what we can to be out there and be as effective as we can be every day,’’ Yeatman said.

Yeatman hasn’t spoken with Belichick about their similar lacrosse backgrounds - though it seems they’d have a lot to chat about.

Making the team will have to come first.

“Maybe sometime in the future, but right now it’s been all about football,’’ Yeatman said.

Nicole Auerbach can be reached at nauerbach@globe.com.

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