NAPPANEE — When Bronson Yoder’s name comes up in athletic circles around the northern half of the state — and it often does — the word that comes up most frequently is “freak”. Of course, it’s meant in the best possible way, as in freakishly explosive, freakishly dynamic and just plain freakishly talented.
NorthWood High School football coach Nate Andrews isn’t opposed to the descriptor exactly, but he also thinks it falls far short of describing the do-it-all athlete.
“I think that that’s a good word. However, I don’t know if it fits Bronson because it almost diminishes the fact of how hard he’s worked and how much he has developed and progressed over the course of four years,” said Andrews.
“So, yeah, he’s a freak, but I think he made himself and turned himself into that. This is a guy, if we decided, he could’ve led the state in receiving. I’m confident about that. A great, great kid to go along with it, too.”
Yoder’s is a once-in-a-lifetime ability to do pretty much anything he’s asked to do, and that capability was on full display in his senior football season.
Andrews and the Black Crunch took full advantage of their senior quarterback’s vast skill set, at various times lining him up behind center, at wide receiver, slot receiver and running back on offense, at strong safety on defense and giving him a central role on special teams. There was hardly a way Yoder didn’t score points for his team over its 11-1 campaign — he scored on kickoff returns, punt returns, safeties, pick sixes, and via rushing, passing and receiving. All told, the 5’11”, 190-pound dynamo was credited with scoring 214 of his team’s total 516 points over the course of the season and a ridiculous 2,949 all-purpose yards. His 339 rushing yards opposite East Noble in the Class 3A, Sectional 19 semifinal on Oct. 26 represents a single-game school record, one of about 12 or so the recent NorthWood grad reckons he owns.
Yoder knows he has some natural ability, but he’s quick to give much of the credit to his teammates, too.
“I have God-given talent that I was blessed with, but I think my teammates really lifted me up and allowed me to perform at my best just because of the way they acted throughout every practice, throughout every game. We were all in it together, and just for them to not be jealous that I was getting those touches helped me, because I knew they trusted me with the ball,” he said.
“I’m just glad that it all worked out, and I had my teammates around me. I had a great line that helped me do that, great skill players that blocked for me. I had the easy job of just running. They had the tough job of blocking and not being seen much.”
In four years with NorthWood football, Yoder collected All-Northern Lakes Conference and All-State accolades over three, landed on the cover of the Indiana Football Digest as a junior, earned himself the Moose Krause Award and was named the WSBT Athlete of the Year for the 2018-19 school year. So with so much ability to do just about anything on the football field, does Yoder have a favorite position?
“I always get asked this question. I have no idea. I love safety. After playing the quarterback position, I love running back now. But I have no idea. I love slot receiver, too. I don’t know. I like being on the field. I like playing football,” he said with a laugh.
That much is obvious.
“The guy never took a smile — big smile — off of his face every down, no matter if we were way ahead or behind or it was the most crucial, crunch time situation you can think of. He would thrive on running people over and not ever going down and making all 11 people knock him out of bounds and sprinting back to the huddle, laughing and giggling for more. And it’s contagious. I get emotional thinking about it,” Andrews said.
What pushes Yoder to be so great is a competitive drive that his coaches have rarely seen. It’s a drive that served him well in the spring season, too, as he earned his third All-NLC credit, as well as a sectional championship in the long jump, where he likely would have finished on the podium at state if not for an untimely hamstring injury on his third jump at the Goshen tournament.
“His record speaks for itself, what a great athlete he is. He’s an outstanding high school athlete, there’s no question. He can do so many things,” said NorthWood boys track and field coach Mark BeMiller. “The thing that stands out with me the most with Bronson is the kind of competitor he is. He’s a big-time competitor, and I think that’s what separates him from a lot of the other really good athletes that come through — he has a competitive spirit that I haven’t seen too often at all.”
It’s a drive that was first honed at home growing up in the shadow of older brothers Logan and Conner, the latter of whom Yoder credits with introducing him to the sport of football. He got a relatively late start, in seventh grade, and didn’t even know how to put his pads on. But over the course of the next six years, he transformed himself into a one of the state’s elite players and a Mr. Football nominee.
“I would say it probably started in the home. I have three older brothers. Growing up, it was always competitive around the house,” he recalled. “My older brother played football, and I always wanted to play football. I didn’t start until seventh grade, so it was kind of a new thing for me. I always wanted to be the best, and my brother just pushed me. The coaches, they definitely pushed me throughout my years. I can remember middle school practices, how hard my coaches would push me, and I would wonder why they were pushing me so hard. Looking back I’m so grateful for that.”
Yoder’s considerable abilities didn’t go unnoticed at the next level, either. He signed on to play football at the NCAA Division I College of William and Mary back in December, and he’ll report to camp in July. With so many impressive bona fides already on his résumé, the drive that has pushed him to become the athletic “freak” he is hasn’t let up any yet.
“I want to make an impact, I want to be so much better than I was this year. I just want to improve as much as I possibly can — whether that’s on the field, off the field, in the weight room — but, yeah, just become a better football player all around,” Yoder said.