The healing begins even if the pain may never go away.
University of Saint Mary football players will always have a tragic moment etched in their mind.
On Thursday, March 1, they were there when one of their own would essentially die in front of them.
Christian Yanos, 21, a junior college transfer from Fullerton, California, passed away after falling during a non-contact drill and would be pronounced dead en route to the hospital.
University officials declined to comment on the cause of death and deferred the announcement of it to be left to the family of the fallen Spire.
USM head coach Jay Osborne and other university officials attended the funeral service in Yanos’ home state of California.
“Getting to meet his family and seeing where he came from was good I think as far as understanding more about Christian,” Osborne said. “We were able to spend seven good weeks with him. The family was appreciative that we went out there and I was there for the services.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s not something you move on from. People say, ‘We have to move on.’ But it’s not something where you continue life as it is. From every semester from here on out this is not something you put in the rearview and it goes away.”
Lighting strikes twice
In a campus community as small as Saint Mary, where most athletes walk shoulder to shoulder for nine months on the quaint campus, it’s one thing to have one death like this to deal with. But when former men’s basketball player Marcus Mondaine was murdered in the fall of 2016, it made two tragedies in a short amount of time.
The recent tragedy unfolded in front of a few dozen players and coaches.
“I was about five feet from where he fell and the first thing I did was drop to a knee,” said senior to be Trey Perkins, a USM football player. “I was praying and crying and I was confused and scared. What we usually do when someone gets injured is just move the drill to the other side, but this was different. Everyone started rushing over and honestly, none of the guys knew what was going on. We didn’t know how to cope with it.
“He just fell. As soon as it happened we all got together. Some of us thought he was having an asthma attack or something. Everything stopped. As soon as it happened we knew this was serious. First thing that crossed my mind was, ‘God help us, help him.’”
Osborne saw Yanos on the ground but didn’t see the actual fall.
“It didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t routine,” Osborne said. “It happened very fast. … Our trainer was there in seconds, the ambulance was there shortly after.
“I waited just a few minutes and once we got help … we took the team into the locker room. We prayed, we talked, then we went over to the hospital.”
When they did, Christian Yanos was already gone.
“It was one of those moments where you want to help, but you can’t,” Perkins said. “There was nothing I could do and that’s what tears me up.”
“It took me a couple days before I woke up and said ‘This was real,’” Osborne said. “You don’t want to believe it happened.”
Having been witness to Yanos’ eventual passing, a focus for the players and coaches has been to remember his life.
“I see him sitting in the locker room or see him watching Netflix in my office while waiting on his classes and that’s where I still see him,” Osborne said. “It took 24 hours for me and then I said I didn’t want to see him that way (laying on the field). … We did a fun run, a Super Bowl party and he was at all that stuff. I see him doing all that stuff.
“We lost a player in 2011 when Tommy Ross died (in a car accident) and that was tragic, but this is different. I feel much, much closer to Christian because of this. We knew him for seven weeks, but in the environment we are in, working every day together, seven weeks is about three times what you really need to know somebody.”
Much of what Osborne alludes to is being able to cope. He and Perkins acknowledge the fantastic job university officials did in getting the right people in place to help the team and others deal with the event.
“The school had a bunch of people up here to talk to, dogs that we could pet and stuff. Mostly what I did was be around my teammates,” Perkins said. “It was a tough time for me, but there were people there for me. As an older person on the team, I had to be that person for (teammates). There were people on campus that don’t even play football that were there for us. They would tell us ‘If you need anything, let me know.’
“The school is a big community and everyone was backing everyone up.”
“Everybody on campus knew that this was the definition of unexpected,” Osborne said. “You don’t expect to go out and play football and not come back with one of those guys. It’s a fear as a coach that something like that might happen.
“What the campus did for the next two days and the next week and jumping on with taking Christian home … that was good.”
Who was Christian Yanos?
Osborne attended services for Yanos along with a few others from USM and entered a packed house of mourners and well-wishers.
“It was bigger than our chapel, so there were a lot of people there for him,” Osborne said.
Yanos had a family connection (Chuck Diaz) to the Spire program and ultimately decided he wanted to play for the team, according to Osborne.
“He wanted to be here,” Osborne said. “We knew he was good people and was a good character guy. He just finished winning a state (junior college) title at Fullerton and that means he was playing until Dec. 15. That means he was just coming off of a high-level football season. He played a position (offensive line) where there was a need. He had a strong desire to be here and do this. It wasn’t a long recruiting process.
“He wanted to be here and build team and build family and you could tell that very quickly. He was awesome. He was easy to talk to and his smile was infectious. Growing up, his brother said that they never fought … only if they were playing Madden. It is a great family.”
“He was a great guy,” Perkins said. “I only knew him for a month and a half, but felt I had known him for his whole life. When I first started talking to him I thought he was going to be a good dude and he was.”
The school has planned to honor Yanos’ memory in multiple ways yet to be determined, but his planned uniform No. 66 will be made into a patch on the team’s uniform next season.
It’s one thing that a teammate died, but it only adds to the pain knowing Yanos in life.
“You don’t move on from this,” Osborne said. “I don’t think I will go a year of coaching football where I won’t think about this. He is with us forever. We were very blessed to have spent the time we did with him.”
After that fateful moment on the football field, Perkins called his mother first, then the rest of his family to tell them he loved them as he now better understood the fragility of life.
He also recognized what he needed to do next.
“I think about it every day … and I think about how I could be better for Christian,” Perkins said.