Tight end from ‘Down Under’ with rugby background is showing how far he’s come since arriving at Utah
Thomas Yassmin’s journey — both literally and figuratively — to get to the point where he’s contributing for the offense has been anything but short. Or easy
Not long after Utah tight end Brant Kuithe suffered a season-ending injury in the first half of a 34-13 victory at Arizona State, another Ute tight end showed what he could do in an attempt to fill that enormous void on the offense.
In the third quarter, junior Thomas Yassmin caught a pass from quarterback Cam Rising and rumbled 72 yards, deep into Sun Devils territory. While Yassmin has been making an impact on special teams for a couple of years, that was only his second career catch. His first was a six-yard reception last season against Weber State.
“It’s unfortunate it came about this way. But I’ve been hanging for opportunities here and there and doing what I can. At the end of the day, I’m going to make the most of what I have right now and take that on 100%.” — Utah tight end Thomas Yassmin
Yassmin’s journey — both literally and figuratively — to get to the point where he’s contributing to the offense has been anything but short. Or easy.
The 6-5, 251-pound junior from Sydney, Australia — 8,571 miles from Salt Lake City — arrived on campus in 2018 as a redshirt, having never played American football before.
Yassmin played rugby at The Scots College in New South Wales, Australia. But, of course, football is a much different sport. There’s been a lot to learn.
“Coming in, I definitely knew there would be challenges. But I thought it would be somewhat shorter to get to the point where coaches could put their trust in me. It’s been a long road,” Yassmin said. “Coaches have their trust in me now finally for me to step up and fill that role. I’m not saying by any means we can do stuff better but I, and the guys on the team, believe … collectively, we’ll be good. It’s a long road.
“It’s unfortunate it came about this way. But I’ve been hanging for opportunities here and there and doing what I can. At the end of the day, I’m going to make the most of what I have right now and take that on 100%.”
Rising likes having Yassmin as a weapon.
“That guy’s just a specimen — that’s the best way to put it. He’s as big as you want a tight end to be and he’s as fast as a receiver,” he said. “He does a great job just having that rugby background. You want to get the ball in his hands as fast as you can so that he can run and handle the rest. I’m looking forward to getting him the ball.”
Rising has been impressed by the development of the tight end from the land Down Under.
“In the past few years, being with him, seeing him play a little bit of rugby-style football when we were on the scout team in 2019 together and to now, it’s night and day,” he said. “You can tell he’s a football player now.”
Rising added that Yassmin has improved in his route running, blocking and footwork.
“It’s getting his feet to make sure they’re taking the right steps and always getting the right depths,” Rising said. “That’s something he struggled with early.”
Rugby and football are similar in some ways but Yassmin said football is “more mental … Much more strategic. Rugby is kind of like soccer, where you play by feel.”
Yassmin said the coaching staff has instilled him with the confidence that he can be a key contributor.
”The coaches have belief in me,” he said. “They genuinely believe I can go out there and do things that I’m good at and use my body how I can and make the most of that opportunity.”
Coach Kyle Whittingham said the biggest challenge for Yassmin is to be assignment sound.
“That’s the biggest issue right now. He was pretty darn good in the game Saturday. That’s been what’s held him back,” he said. “He started at ground zero when he got to us. He had no football experience. Everything has been a learning process for him. He’s better now than he’s ever been. If he can eliminate a few errors that show up on occasion it will make him even better.”
Whittingham added that Yassmin possesses everything it takes to be a successful tight end.
“He’s got size, speed and good hands. He’s athletic. He’s a prototypical tight end — 6-5, 215. If you watch our kickoff team, he’s the first one down there every single time. That shows you the speed that he has. He does have great hands. It’s just football savvy, having never played, has been a big disadvantage. But he’s made up a lot of ground.”
Along with Yassmin, fellow tight ends Munir McClain and Logan Kendall will have expanded roles within the offense.
“We’ll have to have guys step up and pick up the slack,” Whittingham said.
With Kuithe out, the Utes still have Dalton Kincaid, who is the team’s leading receiver. For Yassmin, it’s been a blessing to have been learning from Kuithe and Kincaid — two of the top tight ends in the country.
Yassmin said he’s trying his best to emulate the “little nuances” that make Kuithe and Kincaid such dynamic playmakers.
“They’re great at encouraging me in things I’m good at. They’ve helped me use my body the best I can,” Yassmin said. “Brant’s an unbelievable route runner. He’s arguably the best on the team. I can try to learn tips and tricks … and execute reps at the highest level. Dalton’s been great in that aspect. He’s very helpful.”
For Yassmin, the transition from rugby to football was more challenging than he thought it would be. Going from having no football experience to joining a Power Five program like Utah has been difficult.
But now he’ll get more opportunities to use the skills that can be traced to his rugby-playing days.
“What’s helped me is running with the ball in my hand,” Yassmin said. “That’s what comes to me most naturally and using my speed and strength. Learning the mental aspect and strategic aspect of football … It was definitely a lot longer than expected.”
After Yassmin’s long catch-and-run at ASU, Kincaid told reporters “you’ve got a taste of Thomas Yassmin today.”
The Utes are hoping that Yassmin can remove a little bit of the bitter taste from losing Kuithe for the season.
Utes on the air
Oregon State (3-1, 0-1) at No. 12 Utah (3-1, 1-0)
Saturday, Noon MDT
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700