football Edit

What else are you going to do? Inside the evolution of Yasir Durant

One fall afternoon in 2012, Yasir Durant relaxed in the bedroom of his Philadelphia home playing video games. His mother, Sherelle Durant, lounged on the couch. The phone rang. Sherelle answered.

A few minutes later, without warning, Sherelle flung open the door to her son’s bedroom and burst in “like a maniac,” her voice already raised to a yell. The characteristically laid-back Yasir looked up, startled.

“You could see the fear on his face,” Sherelle remembered.

The dramatic entrance preceded an even more explosive argument. Sherelle was “very, very, very angry.” Now, she and Yasir regularly reminisce on the scene and laugh.

If it wasn’t for that yelling match, Yasir, now entering his third season as Missouri’s starting left tackle, might never have played college football.

Yasir Durant (70) started all 13 games for Missouri at left tackle last season.
Yasir Durant (70) started all 13 games for Missouri at left tackle last season. (Cassie Florido)

The phone call that sparked Sherelle’s ire came from Al Crosby, the head football coach at Imhotep Institute charter high school. Crosby had noticed Yasir a year earlier, when he was in eighth grade, and had told Sherelle that if her son wanted to play football, he could be moved to the top of the list to gain admittance to Imhotep, a perennial powerhouse. Yasir had played a few seasons of pop warner football but quit because the league made him play with kids four to five years older than him due to his size. He had little desire to give the sport a second chance and even less to attend Imhotep, hoping instead to attend the local public school with his neighborhood friends. Sherelle convinced him otherwise — a foreshadowing of things to come — and Yasir enrolled in Imhotep and joined the football team.

He played football in name only. Perhaps as a form of protest, Yasir attended practices at Imhotep but never participated, instead just watching from the sidelines. It was that news that led Sherelle to burst into Yasir’s bedroom.

“We had a really big fight, and I was telling him, like, ‘What else are you going to do in life? Look how big you are. You were born to do this,’” Sherelle said.

Sherelle, as usual, won the argument and convinced Yasir to at least give football a chance. Seven years later, his outlook could not be much different. Several of his teammates on the Missouri offensive line called him a great teammate. They said that, coming off a stellar junior season in which he allowed just eight quarterback pressures in 951 total snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, Yasir has been more driven and more vocal than ever.

His mother may have persuaded Yasir to give football a shot, but his newfound interest in the sport didn’t suddenly make him a can’t-miss college prospect. Yasir never played a varsity snap as a freshman, and the following season he only played on special teams or when the offense enlisted more than five offensive linemen for a jumbo package. He broke into the starting lineup as a junior, but it wasn’t until his senior season that college coaches began to take interest. By that point, Yasir had taken enough of a liking to the sport that he wanted to play in college, but both Sherelle and Crosby said his chill demeanor extended to his recruitment. As long as he got to continue his football career somewhere, Durant didn’t care how many offers he received or that Rivals ranked him a two-star recruit.

“He was a rare breed,” Crosby said of Yasir. “Most of our kids are really caught up in the process. Yasir really wasn’t. He was just blessed to have an opportunity to go to college, and he’s a very humble young man, so pretty much he wasn’t looking for the shiniest house. He was just trying to find the right fit for him.”

As a senior, Durant found that fit with San Diego State, ultimately committing to the Aztecs right before signing day in 2016. However, there was a snag: Durant needed to raise his SAT score in order to qualify. The San Diego State coaches recommended Sherelle hire a tutor, so Sherelle sent Yasir to Higher Learning test preparation for an SAT prep course. Lo and behold, he achieved the score needed to qualify. Then came the news that crushed the Durants: the Aztec staff still wanted Durant to enroll in junior college before he could play for San Diego State.

“They said that it was such a difference from his last two that they were scared he was going to be red-flagged,” Sherelle said. “And that’s why they made him go to juco. And I was very disappointed, because I had spent money to get him a tutor so that he can get a better score to get into your school. So that was a very, very, very big disappointment. It left a very bad taste in my mouth.”

Sherelle may have been frustrated, but Yasir took the news even harder.

“That was very devastating,” Sherelle said. “I mean, devastating. You’re talking about, to see a big boy cry.”

The blow led to another disagreement between Sherelle and Yasir that may have saved his college football career before it began. Yasir initially refused to enroll at Arizona Western, the junior college San Diego State had suggested he attend. He had done the necessary work to achieve eligibility, he figured, so why couldn’t he find another Division I school willing to take him in? Since signing day had already passed, however, few schools had a spot available, and the few that did were scared off by the same qualification risks that worried San Diego State.

“If it was up to him he was not going to go,” Sherelle said. “And my question to Yasir was, what (else) are you going to do? ... So he went and didn’t like it. Didn’t like it not one bit.”

Since he had already met the NCAA qualification standards, Yasir didn’t have to complete his Associate’s Degree, a two year process, before joining a Division I program. His lone semester at Arizona Western may not have been enjoyable, but two positive developments arose from the situation. First, he caught the eye of former Missouri offensive line coach Glen Elarbee. Elarbee convinced Yasir to visit Columbia, and he committed to the Tigers shortly thereafter. He also gained a sense of perspective that motivated him to work harder both on the football field and, especially, in the classroom.

“I can say as Yasir’s mother that I don’t think he ever really took academics as serious as he should have,” Sherelle said. “But since he’s been at Mizzou, I can say that he’s really, really tried hard.”

Anytime he’s fatigued and doesn’t want to finish a workout or an assignment, Durant said he thinks back to Arizona Western to remind himself that his situation could be far worse.

“It motivated me just to never take anything for granted, and when I got here, I knew I had to get to work because coach (Barry) Odom and his staff gave me an opportunity to play D-I football,” Yasir said. “So it motivated me a lot.”

The most recent leap in Yasir’s evolution from a high school freshman who refused to participate in practice to one of the best tackles in the SEC resulted not from adversity — from an argument with his mother or the news that he would have to attend junior college — but from success. It’s difficult to quantify the contributions of individual offensive linemen, but by all available metrics, Yasir dominated opposing pass-rushers last season. He started all 13 games, and his eight quarterback pressures allowed were the fewest in the SEC, according to Pro Football Focus. His 1.8 percent pressure rate was the lowest. Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-best tackle in the league.

After experiencing that success and hearing his name pop up as a likely pick in next year’s NFL Draft, Yasir’s confidence has soared. Sherelle has noticed the differences in her son.

For one, Yasir looks less flabby and more toned. He arrived at Missouri weighing 358 pounds but has since slimmed down to a more muscular 340. Center Trystan Colon-Castillo and guards Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Larry Borom all remarked that Yasir attacked the team’s strength and conditioning training with a vengeance this summer.

“He attacked the weight room and he attacked the offseason really, really hard,” Colon-Castillo said. “Not something I had seen him do before.”

Yasir is also speaking up more. It may be difficult to believe for those who have seen him interact with the media, but Sherelle said her son “has always been a quiet, cautious homebody.” Growing up, Yasir rarely left the house except to go to school and football practice, and Sherelle said a conversation between him and a stranger might have left the other party wondering “can you talk?”

But as Yasir has grown more confident in his ability and more comfortable with his teammates, his personality has blossomed. (It was on full display after one spring practice when, in response to a question about the postseason ban handed to Missouri by the NCAA he said, “I mean, f--- it.”) He has also learned when to flip the switch from being goofy and laid back into one of the offensive line’s hardest workers. His teammates say he has emerged as a leader among the group.

“He’s a more vocal leader now,” Colon-Castillo said. “He’s talking to guys. In the past he kind of was quiet, stuck to himself and those kind of things. But he’s really developed into a really great leader for this team.”

Yasir’s sights are set high for his senior season. He wants to be the best left tackle not just in the SEC, he said, but in the country. Typical for an offensive lineman, his main goals are team-oriented: win Missouri’s first ever SEC championship and contend for a national title.

The NFL is also in the back of his mind — though like with his recruitment, he hasn’t paid much attention to mock drafts and isn’t yet worried about where he gets picked. But this much is certain: With another season like his junior campaign, the same player who didn’t want to play football in high school will almost certainly be playing it past college. He will have an argument with his mother to thank.