(PALM SPRINGS, CA.) – As spread offenses began to reshape the football landscape, the task for the six-time champion SoCal Coyotes coaching staff was to find dominant linebackers who could run like deer, cover like safeties, but still destroy runners with downhill ferocity tackles inside the tackles.

“We started looking for guys who played skill positions or safety, with the idea of turning them into linebackers,” says Coyotes’ Hall of Fame head coach J David Miller.

Linebacker Phineas Yi (top right, center) buries another opponent for no gain … Yi led all Coyotes in tackles for loss or no gain

When 6-0, 200-pound Phineas Yi showed up for SoCal’s 2022 training camp – fresh out of tiny College of Wooster – Coyote coaches did a double-take. For starters, he was a physical speciman, far thicker than what they’d seen on film. When they saw his speed – “that’s when we realized we had something special,” says Lawrence Coffey, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.

Yi had a brilliant training camp, flying sideline to sideline, breaking up passes, harrassing runners, disrupting the offense and leading by example. “Phin is a humble man,” Coach Coffey says. “He speaks loudly through his pads and performance, and only uses words when necessary. He’s a breath of fresh air.”

By opening day, the 21-year-old South Korean rookie had taken over what the Coyote coaches call the ‘Money’ position – a between-the-tackles role specifically designed for the new breed of linebackers: Physical enough to stuff the run and shoot on blitzes. Fast enough to drop deep into coverage or bounce out and man up on slots. Strong enough to defeat tight ends. Smart enough to out-chess quarterbacks.

For the next 10 weeks, Yi put on a clinic, posting one of the best individual defensive seasons in Coyote history: 45 tackles, 21 assisted and 24 solo, 4 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception in his first year on the ‘Darkside Defense.’ His stunning post-season play brought the Coyotes to the brink of another title. 

When the smoke cleared, Phineas Yi was unanimously voted  by his peers as the SoCal Coyotes’ Defensive Player of the Year.

“Well done is always better than well said,” says Coach Miller, of Yi’s stunning rookie season.

Phineas Yi: The New Hybrid

Gone are offenses’ smashmouth, two-back, downhill-running days of old. Over the past decade, the emphasis on space has put the fullback on endangered species lists and given way to a shotgun-based, spread-out world.

In 2012, Coyote opponents used two backs on 16.8 percent of offensive plays; 2022, that figure had been shaved to 2 percent. Even packages that once called for run-stopping responses no longer do. More and more offenses deploy their tight ends and running backs as makeshift wide receivers – nightmare scenarios for three-linebacker sets.

The modern linebacker was forced to make a choice – adapt, or risk being gashed by the array of new weaponry at an offense’s disposal.

Phineas Yi (far right) slams the brakes on a San Diego runner in 2021

“From our standpoint, since the game has grown horizontally, we’ve had to incorporate the players who have the athletic ability and the speed to play on the perimeter,” Coach Coffey says.

“Phin is the new hybrid,” the veteran coach adds. “Yi picks up tips and keys, all the way across the board, from offensive linemen, to receiver splits, to the running back’s eyes, to the quarterback’s body language. His preparation adds another six inches and 40 pounds to the way he plays.”

Given Yi’s absurd athletic ability, the idea of him gaining any additional advantage seems unfair – yet he finds them constantly. When asked if he’s ever seen a player who can identify an offense’s small ticks the way Yi can, Coach Miller smiles. “No,” he says. “Phin is special.”

Yi’s 6.4 tackles per game led the ‘Darkside Defense’ – and helped set the standard for two other promising rookie linebackers Justin Taylor and Justin Sykes, who notched 35 and 33 tackles respectively.  

A Man of God, a Man of Purpose

A humble warrior, Yi is uncomfortable with praise.

“This was a team effort,” Yi says of his DPOY honors. “I’m blessed, and humbled to be selected. Very grateful to my teammates and coaches. A lot of hard work went into this season.”

When he’s not deep in the Coyote playbook, it’s not surprising to find the quiet Yi studying the Book – his well-worn Bible. Yi relies on more than football to soothe his soul – he is unabashed about his faith in Jesus Christ.

“He’s a man of God, and a man of purpose,” Coach Miller says. “Phin is responsible, and accountable, in every facet of his life – from his family, to his teammates, to the scores of youth who look up to him. Every father would be proud to have Phineas Yi for a son. He personifies what the Coyote program is all about.”

“I wanted to play for the Coyote organization because I’d heard about the awesome Christian fellowship and ministry that happens here – with championship football just a bonus,” Yi says. “Never in my life have I played in a program where their foundation is based on God’s standards and values. The coaches here care more about developing us as men, as football players second.”

“My goal is to glorify the Lord with all I say and all I do,” he adds. “It’s great to have teammates who want the same thing. And whatever God wants for me next – I’m ready to answer His calling.

The Future of the Sport 

For his part, Yi knows his timing couldn’t have been better. He has squeezed through a tiny window made possible by football’s evolution.

“Go back maybe two, three, four years ago, scouts might’ve called Yi a ‘slow safety,’ and slammed the door on his opportunity,” says GM Scott Alvarez. “But today, because of the speed of the game, and the evolution of modern defenses, Phineas Yi is the new prototype linebacker.

“Bottom line is that Phineas is the future of the sport.”


In 2021, California State Senator Melissa Melendez selected the six-time champion SoCal Coyotes from 40,000 other District 28 Inland Empire and Coachella Valley organizations as ‘Nonprofit of the Year.’  Learn more about how the Coyote full-service nonprofit organization annually impacts thousands of lives across the region at TheSoCalCoyotes.com.

The SoCal Coyotes are the national standard of American developmental football, and are 106-16 under Hall of Fame head coach and non-profit founder J David Miller. The Coyotes’ organization provides elite athletes a professional environment that refines and showcases their skills through trademarked processes similar to the NBA’s D-league and MLB’s minor-league systems.

Additionally, the Coyotes’ 501c3 and award-winning ‘Above The Line™’ leadership programs impact the social, mental and physical growth of more than 50,000 youth annually through remedial curriculum, training camps, clinics and symposia. In 2014, NFL executives have named the SoCal Coyotes organization America’s #1 Developmental Football Program™ for its national, scalable brands, community outreach programs, nine-year operational track record, verifiable data, youth curriculum, sales, public-private sector alliances, and measured results.

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