Yurisnec goes from Penn-Trafford sidelines to Gannon Athletics Hall of Fame
Tales of athletic prowess often improve with age. That’s not the case with John Yurisnec.
The 1997 Penn-Trafford graduate doesn’t sugarcoat his accomplishments while playing football and wrestling for the Warriors.
“My high school career was less than stellar,” Yurisnec said.
Yurisnec did start at receiver in 1996, the first season under Penn-Trafford career wins leader Art Tragresser, but in a high-powered, run-and-shoot offense that fueled a WPIAL playoff appearance, he had one reception. There were times Yurisnec played at cornerback or safety, but he said his stints at those positions didn’t last long.
Given his high school background, Yurisnec might be the most unlikely member of the Gannon Athletics Hall of Fame, but the 2019 inductee entered as only the 10th football player enshrined.
“I think my story is about hard work and putting your mind toward a goal and achieving it,” the 39-year-old Yurisnec said. “If you put your mind to it and work hard, it can be done.”
Yurisnec’s climb from one-year starter at Penn-Trafford to a hall-of-fame career at Gannon is part hard work, part determination, part luck and part genetics.
While at Penn-Trafford, Yurisnec was 5-foot-6, 145 pounds. College football programs weren’t knocking down his door, but Gannon and Carnegie Mellon expressed interest.
After getting to Gannon, Yurisnec hit a growth spurt, thanks to a 6-4 father (Pete Sr.) and 6-5 brother (Pete Jr., who played at Clarion). He grew “four to five inches and put on 40 or 45 pounds.” He went from back-up punt returner to starting free safety.
And once Yurisnec became a starter, he stayed on the field.
“To come from where I was at when I graduated high school, I’m one of the least likely guys who played football to end up where I did,” Yurisnec said. “It all was such a great experience.”
In 2001, Yurisnec led Gannon with 72 tackles. The year before, his 67 tackles were a team-best.
The former “squirt” wide receiver evolved into a hard-hitting defensive back who ranks seventh in Gannon history with 303 tackles. His six career interceptions rank just outside the Knights’ Top 10 list, and his 17 tackles against Walsh in 2001 is the third-best total in team history.
As a senior in 2002, Yurisnec was named to the D2football.com all-region team. That same year, he was the first academic All-American in program history.
For all his achievements, Yurisnec holds off-the-field moments closest.
“Any road trip, really,” he said. “Just being with the guys, hanging out in another state. There were a few long bus rides, playing cards, watching movies, just hanging out.”
Yurisnec got to hang out with family and friends, including his wife, Amy, and their two children, Colin and Molly, at Gannon’s awards banquet Feb. 16. There were a few watery eyes when word got out Yurisnec reserved a seat with a name tag for his father, who died seven years ago but never missed his son’s games, whether he was rarely playing at Penn-Trafford or contributing mightily at Gannon.
“I’m just extremely humbled to be part of the entire experience,” Yurisnec said. “I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity Gannon gave me.”