“Playing in the NFL was always my dream growing up,” John Yarbrough, a senior Chicago Bears fanatic who finished his final season this fall on the Spider offensive line said. “It is something that has always been in the back of my head.”

Now, he might just have a shot at his dream. 

Currently standing at 6 feet 5 inches and 270 pounds, Yarbrough has always been a big kid, he said. When Yarbrough was a toddler, locals from his hometown, Homewood, Alabama, would approach his parents, Robbie and Nancy, and ask when he was going to start playing football. 

The answer? Second grade was when he would start his evidently successful football career.

From there, Yarbrough continued his football career at Homewood High School as a three-year starter and captain who helped lead the team to three area championships. Aside from football, he lettered in basketball and played trumpet in the marching band. 

Yarbrough was unfamiliar with the University of Richmond until the team began recruiting him for football. After some research on the football program and an attraction to the undergraduate business offerings, he committed to play football for the Spiders before he visited.

“Then, the visit went well,” Yarbrough said as he laughed at his risky early commitment. "Thank God." 

Four years later, he is a business administration major in the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business finishing up his concentration in marketing with four football seasons under his belt. 

As a first year on the Spiders squad, Yarbrough did not see much playing time. But by the end of his sophomore season, he was starting. As a junior, Yarbrough started in all 11 games at center. And in his senior season, he started in all 11 games at three different positions on the offensive line: center, right guard and right tackle. 

Spider Football two-year offensive line coach Adam Ross attributes Yarbrough's development as both a player and a leader to his selflessness and flexibility.

“He had to play several different positions and never complained," Ross said. "By filling holes, he became a leader of the group. The more you can do, the more reason they have to keep you.” 

Yarbrough’s versatility in his final season led the Touchdown Club of Virginia to name him Offensive Lineman of the Year in the state of Virginia. He was also named Second Team All-Colonial Athletic Association. These accomplishments opened the door to an invitation to play in the FCS National Bowl in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Dec. 9, 2018, where he was named Lineman MVP. 

After this, Yarbrough said he had decided he “wanted to put both feet in the boat” and commit to his lifelong goal of playing football at the next level. In late December 2018, Yarbrough signed with agent Landon Betsworth at Athletes Trust, a full-service athlete representation and management firm. 

More recently, Yarbrough was invited to play in the FBS All Americans Tropical Bowl where he proved to NFL scouts that he had the speed and size to compete at a higher level. 

Fellow Spider offensive lineman Kolby Williams described Yarbrough, who is commonly referred to by the team as “Yarbs,” as reliable, driven and creative. Williams reflected on his first impression of Yarbrough and said his initial thought had been that he was “huge and hilarious.” 

“I think John has a great shot," Williams said when asked about his teammate’s future in the game. "He’s one of those people who will say something and do it. Not just to get it done but to be the best at it. He’s got great size and athleticism. He is very versatile, and he knows a lot about football.”

For his final semester, Yarbrough is taking three classes while preparing for Spider Football’s pro day on March 26. He lifts five times a week with Spider football alumnus and Green Bay Packers player Alex Light. 

Light was signed by Green Bay as a free agent on May 4, 2018, and is a good friend of Yarbrough’s. Yarbrough was also quick to add that he does yoga classes on Sundays and has recently taken up meditation. 

Saturday is Yarbrough’s off-day, so you can likely find him getting down on the dance floor of the Tobacco Company Restaurant or driving around in his red Jeep to find the best barbecue joint in Virginia -- his favorite so far is Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

On the subject of reaching his goal, Yarbrough said, “One thing that has stuck with me since getting into this process is that all the teams already have 53 players. 

“I have to train harder than someone who is on a team right now. This is what I have been using to motivate myself going forward.” 

In recent years, three Spiders made NFL rosters: Kyle Lauletta and Kerry Wynn with the New York Giants, and Light with the Green Bay Packers. 

The 2019 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25. Yarbrough said he hoped to be drafted in a late round or be signed as a free agent. His goal from there would be to make the 53-man roster.

Now, locals in Homewood can ask, will this big kid ever stop playing football? Stay tuned. 

Contact contributor Megan McNitt at megan.mcnitt@richmond.edu.