Tommy Yewcic

Tommy Yewcic produced one of the most impressive athletic resumes in the region's history.

All-state honors in high school. All-American status in college.

A national championship caliber quarterback in football, and a College World Series MVP in baseball.

Major League Baseball catcher. American Football League quarterback and punter.

Yewcic, it seemed, could excel at just about anything he attempted in the athletic world. And, it wasn't by chance or coincidence.

"When I was young, I loved playing ball because almost all of my brothers played," said Yewcic, who still lives a very active lifestyle at age 84. "I had six brothers and four of them went to college and played.

"Every day, regardless of what season it was, if it was football I was out there throwing or kicking the ball from 9 to 5. When it was basketball I was shooting hoops from 9 to 5. When it was baseball, I was playing baseball from 9 to 5.

"I tell kids that you don't get good at this game when you're older," he said. "You get better when you're young. I practiced so much, it was unbelievable."

So were the results.

The East Conemaugh resident earned all-state recognition in both football and basketball at Conemaugh High School. He also starred on the baseball diamond for the Iron Horses.

After fielding dozens of scholarship offers, Yewcic chose Michigan State University – where he quarterbacked the Spartans to the 1952 national championship and a Rose Bowl victory after the 1953 season.

"The reason I went to Michigan State is they promised me I could play baseball as well as football," said Yewcic, who was an all-American in each sport with the Spartans. "They told me I had to come to spring training to be a quarterback. I practiced at quarterback for 20 days. I never took a snap before."

His first pass as a college quarterback was a 33-yard touchdown that led the Spartans over rival Ohio State, 24-20.

"When I went to Michigan State, I was a tailback in the single wing," Yewcic said. "The second year, I was a halfback until we played Ohio State in front of 84,000 people.

"We were practicing a play in practice called a transcontinental," he added. "We'd line up in a T-formation and the quarterback would line up right behind center. The snap would be to the fullback."

Even 64 years after the play, Yewcic described in detail the snap to the back, some misdirection and the ball being given to him at the quarterback spot just before he lofted it downfield.

"That was the first pass I threw in college and it went for a touchdown, and we won the game 24-20," Yewcic recalled. "That pass is very famous – forever. I got a call (from the media) this year. I got a call last year. I get a call every year for the Ohio State game."

Yewcic led the Spartans to another Big Ten title in 1953 and a 28-20 win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

Almost lost amid his gridiron accomplishments was Yewcic's being named the most valuable player in the 1954 NCAA College World Series.

One of Michigan State's most decorated and versatile athletes, Yewcic remains the only player to win a Rose Bowl and be named College World Series MVP. He achieved both feats during the same academic year.

The Detroit Tigers signed him to a contract in 1954. Yewcic hit a home run in his first at-bat with Class A Wilkes-Barre in the minors and did even better with a grand slam in his first plate appearance with Class AAA Buffalo. He played in the minor leagues until he entered the U.S. Army in 1955.

"My first time up, I hit a home run," Yewcic said. "Two or three months later, I was hitting over .300, they shipped me up to Buffalo in Triple-A. I took a flight there, took a cab to the game and suited up in the sixth inning. The ninth inning came. We're losing by three runs. Bases are loaded. They called on me to pinch hit and I hit a grand slam."

After his time in the Army, Yewcic returned to the Tigers and made his major league debut on June 28, 1957 against the Washington Senators.

Yewcic spent a season with Detroit but appeared in only one major league game with one at-bat. He remained in the minor leagues through 1961.

Then, he turned to football – eight years after his career ended at Michigan State. He played one season in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts and had a tryout with the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers before his opportunity opened with the birth of the American Football League.

Yewcic joined the Boston Patriots in the AFL in 1961 and played halfback, quarterback and punter.

"I went to Canada and played a year. After that was over, I went back to the states and Lou Saban was the (Boston) head coach," Yewcic said. "He came into Pittsburgh and I met him at the airport. He signed me to a contract with the Patriots."

The versatile Yewcic is considered one of the Patriots' best punters with 378 kicks for 14,553 yards. He once held the league record for most yards kicked in one game.

Yewcic also played quarterback and threw for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns over a six-year career (1961-66) with the Patriots.

After his playing career, Yewcic became the Patriots' offensive backfield coach in 1967-68. He was the offensive coordinator for Holy Cross in 1969-70, the offensive backfield coach for the University of Rhode Island in 1971-72 and then returned to the Patriots for a nine-season stint as offensive backfield and special teams coach from 1973 to 1981.

He remains tied to the organization through his role as the NFL's New England Alumni Chapter President and Tournament Director. Yewcic organizes charity fund-raisers such as golf events.

Yewcic is involved in other charities and organizations such as Easter Seals, The Arthritis Foundation, Brain Tumor Society, American Liver Foundation and the Jimmy Fund. He served as President of the Arlington (Massachusetts) Touchdown Club and is a Trustee for the Sports Museum of New England.

"I work out five days a week and I watch what I eat. I do a lot of charity events," Yewcic said. "I run a lot of golf tournaments and play quite a bit of golf."

Yewcic continues to have success in the athletic arena, even if it now is tied to fundraising.

The foundation for his work ethic was set decades ago in East Conemaugh Borough.

Yewcic, whose father was a steel mill worker, was raised in a house with nine other siblings. Four of his brothers played high school football, and three played college sports. Tommy won the 1949 Point Stadium Award two years after his older brother Paul won the prestigious honor.

Tommy, who earned 11 letters at Conemaugh High, was a first-team all-Pennsylvania selection after his senior season in basketball in 1949-50, joining his older brother Mike who was an all-state hoops pick in 1940.

The Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Yewcic in its inaugural Class of 1965.

His nephew, also named Tom Yewcic, was a quarterback on Pitt's 1976 national championship team and served in the state House of Representatives.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.