Dedicated work ethic sparks Yakich’s success for Hampton track
By: Devon Moore
Friday, June 15, 2018 | 12:21 AM
Mike Yakich is a take-your-lunch-pail-to-work kind of guy. But he would also take something unusual with him to high school — his trailer for his landscaping business.
“I'd leave school and just go cut as many lawns I could before I had to be at the track at 2:50,” said Yakich, who started with two lawns at the age of 11.
Yak's Yard Service manages more than 30 lawns around the area.
“I'd go and do track practice, then would leave from there and go cut grass until dark pretty much every day,” he said. “Last year, I was cutting 20-some. Naturally, the two busiest times of the year are spring and fall. That's when I had track and football. I really learned how to manage my time and just keep going.”
Perhaps the recent graduate's hands-on approach to work is a big reason he took home silver in the 110-meter hurdles at the WPIAL championships and qualified for the PIAA meet for a second consecutive year. Yakich made WPIALs the past three years in high hurdles, never finishing worse than seventh.
“Ever since I was younger,” Yakich said, “anything blue collar or staying active.
“PS3 would come out and I'd say ‘oh I want that.' Then I'd play it like twice. My friends would play these games that we could just go and play outside. Why are you in here when you could go outside and play it in real life?”
Yakich's active lifestyle took an inadvertent toll on him over the winter when he broke his wrist in a snowboarding accident. After surgery in February, he was prohibited from jumping hurdles at the beginning of the season, so he ran the 100 and 200 at meets.
He was able to manage his time — and just kept going.
“I never really had a personal trainer or anything, and I'm good at self-motivation,” he said. “It took about a week or two to get back comfortable getting over them.”
It helped having track coach Derek Brinkley, who was a NCAA Division II national champion at IUP in the 400 hurdles.
Brinkley, a two-sport athlete in track and football, was inducted into the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Coach Brinkley was a really good hurdler in his time,” Yakich said. “He would give us different workouts to do all the time, and he'd be able to pick out all the things we were doing wrong.”
Having good competition also helped Yakich, as fellow senior Ben Brandeis was a WPIAL qualifier in the hurdles. When Yakich was a sophomore, senior Kurt Eberhardt, who eventually took WPIAL and PIAA bronze in the 300 hurdles, was Hampton's top hurdler in the 110.
“When I came up, Kurt was better than me in the 110,” Yakich said. “But as the year went on, I became better than him. My goal was ‘hey I'm a sophomore, I want to try to be better than the senior.' So I really pushed myself.”
Yakich continues to push himself after graduation at Yak's Yard Service and is looking to secure an apprenticeship at the UA Local 449 Steamfitters Union in the fall.
“Some of the kids like (WPIAL and PIAA hurdles champion) Ayden Owens have personal trainers,” he said. “Not to say my parents wouldn't get me one, but I never wanted them. I like to do my own thing, do my own workouts and keep busy.”
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.