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For Yates, It Was a Snap Decision : Quarterback Heads Down Under So He Can Keep Throwing Passes Instead of Knocking Them Down


William Yates Jr. cut a dashing figure during a photo shoot at Norman O. Houston Park near Baldwin Hills. Wearing a khaki safari outfit, the former Fremont High quarterback jumped in the air, cocked back his left arm and faked a pass.

The spectacle drew the attention of passing motorists on La Brea Avenue, much to Yates' amusement.

"Cars were stopping by and people were asking 'Who does he play for?' " Yates said. " 'What pro team does he play for? Who is he? I've never heard of him.' "

But fans in Australia and New Zealand will soon hear all about Yates, who is headed to the South Pacific nations for the sixth annual Down Under Bowl. Eighteen teams from the United States will compete in the two-week tournament starting Monday and running through July 31.

Yates will start at quarterback for the California All-Stars, who will play the Arizona All-Stars Saturday and either the Washington All-Stars or Indian Nations, a team of Native Americans from throughout the United States, on July 26 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Although inner-city football players are often overlooked by postseason all-star football games, it was hard to ignore Yates and his flamboyant style.

Yates, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior, gained notoriety with his throwing and scrambling ability. He passed for 1,540 yards and 17 touchdowns, and rushed for 666 yards and nine touchdowns. He was named City Times' 1993 Back of the Year, and was selected to the City Section 3-A Division team.

"I saw him on film and knew I wanted him as my quarterback," said Jerry Ralph, an assistant football coach at University High of San Diego who arranged the overseas trip and will coach the 28-man all-star team.

In addition to playing two football games, the Californians will get a chance to play touch rugby, go jet boating and white-water rafting down the rivers in Rotorura in New Zealand and try bungee jumping. The team will also make a stopover in Hawaii on their return trip. The adventure costs $2,250 per player, but Food 4 Less has agreed to pay Yates' expenses.

Ralph also selected Notre Dame-bound Leon Blunt of San Fernando, USC-bound Darrell Russell of San Diego St. Augustine, Jamal Brooks of Granada Hills and Vincent Carthron of Granada Hills Kennedy.

"The recommendations I received from coaches and recruiting coordinators from colleges compared Yates to a young Randall Cunningham," Ralph said. "I'm really impressed with his character."

Ralph wasn't alone in his evaluation of the versatile athlete. Nevada Las Vegas, where Cunningham played before starring for the Philadelphia Eagles, has given a scholarship to Yates. Yates was selected to play in the Shrine North-South All-Star Game on Saturday at Cerritos College, but he declined the invitation.

"I want to travel out of the United States," Yates said. "I also wanted to play my position. In the Shrine Game, I would have to play defensive back."

Quarterback, as Yates proved last season, is where he shines. He orchestrated the veer offense and led Fremont to a school-record 11 wins and its first appearance in a championship game since 1958.

The Pathfinders were badly outclassed, losing to San Pedro, 31-7, in the 3-A final. But it turned out that Yates had suffered a back injury during the final regular season game and had trouble throwing the ball more than 40 yards. He completed only four of 16 passes for 66 yards with two interceptions, and rushed 12 times for 20 yards.

Yates did not mention his injury after the title game.

"I didn't want to make excuses," Yates said. "Me and my coach were the only ones who knew."

Despite a six-month layoff, Yates' back is healthy and he will be bigger and stronger after working out this summer. While practicing with the Fremont team, Yates was throwing close to 70 yards in practice.

"It's going to be fun playing in front of a crowd that really doesn't know much about football," Yates said. "People in New Zealand probably don't know what to expect."

For Yates, it will be another day in the park.

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