Rock Ya-Sin needed just one season against Football Bowl Subdivision foes to impress the Indianapolis Colts.
Now, general manager Chris Ballard hopes the physical cornerback can duplicate the success of another former small-school star. The Colts beefed up their secondary by taking Ya-Sin at No. 34 overall, their first pick of the draft.
Indy then selected Ben Banogu, a pass-rushing linebacker from TCU, at No. 49 and receiver Parris Campbell from Ohio State at No. 59.
It’s the first time since 2005 the Colts have taken a cornerback in the top 35 picks.
“I only played football in high school for two years and felt like I was under recruited,” Ya-Sin said. “I just believed in myself. I felt like I had the talent, I had the work ethic and I had great coaches (at Temple) around me.”
The refrain should sound familiar to Colts fans.
A year ago, Ballard used the first of his four second-round picks on another overlooked high school player who wound up in the Football Championship Subdivision, Darius Leonard of South Carolina State. Leonard wound up leading the NFL in tackles, being named Defensive Rookie of the Year and becoming a first-team All-Pro in 2018.
This time, it is Ya-Sin, a 6-foot, 192-pound Georgia native who played his first three seasons at Presbyterian College in South Carolina before landing at Temple as a graduate transfer. There, Ya-Sin caught the attention of NFL scouts by recording 47 tackles and finishing 14th in the FBS with 12 passes defensed.
Plus, he earned a single-digit jersey — a distinction reserved for the Owls’ toughest players.
And the two-time Georgia state wrestling champion managed to take some of the skills he learned on the mat to the football field.
“It’s a team sport but it’s a lot of one-on-one matchups and you have to beat one guy so you’re not afraid to stand up against a guy man to man or to stay on top of a guy in the zone,” Ya-Sin said. “The hand-fighting, a takedown is a tackle you know.”
The last time Indy selected a cornerback this high was in 2005 when it took Marlin Jackson at No. 29. Jackson remains a memorable player because it was his late interception that sealed the 2006 AFC Championship game win over New England. Two weeks later, the Colts won the Super Bowl.
Ballard has invested heavily in a defense that made remarkable strides last season under first-year coordinator Matt Eberflus, with Leonard leading the way.
So after trading out of the first round and picking up two second-round picks from Washington, No. 46 this year and another in 2020, Ballard wasted no time in taking Ya-Sin. Then he went back to the draft weekend wheeling-and-dealing that has come to define his three-year tenure.
He sent the Redskins pick to Cleveland, moved back three spots to take Banogu and picked up a fifth-round pick, No. 144.
Banogu is a 6-4, 249-pound linebacker who started his career at Louisiana-Monroe but recorded 8½ sacks each of the last two seasons at TCU and could become the starter opposite Leonard.
Campbell gives the Colts another speedster to pair with Andrew Luck. The 6-1, 208-pound Campbell joins a receiving corps that includes Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, recent signee Devin Funchess and two draft picks from last season — Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain. Campbell caught 90 passes for 1,063 yards and 12 TDs last season.
The Colts had one third-round pick, No. 89, left to make Friday.