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PULLMAN – To outsiders, David Yost is mostly a man of mystery. He is tall and slender with long, flowing blond locks, he coaches Washington State’s inside receivers, and he has been granted by football coach Mike Leach the privilege of not doing media interviews.

But his role within the program is much more visible, and it was Yost who a year ago got to Vince Mayle more than anybody.

“Anytime I’m tired or something, I think about what he said to me,” Mayle said awhile back. “It really hurt me deep down.”

Mayle was about a month into the 2013 season, a player who took a circuitous path to WSU and who admits he is prone to lose focus.

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“Stop making excuses and get your job done,” Mayle says, repeating Yost’s message. “You’d be a much better player if you stopped making excuses and get what you have to do done, instead of making excuses why you didn’t get it done.”

Yost doesn’t usually raise the decibel level. “It really worked,” Mayle says.

Monday, Mayle was named to the list of 10 Biletnikoff Award semifinalists, on the strength of his school-record 86 receptions in 2014 for 1,152 yards, fifth nationally. He had a 263-yard game against California.

One of his fellow semifinalists is Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, like Mayle a big, strapping receiver. Assuming Strong is recovered from possible concussion symptoms against Oregon State, the two can compare notes Saturday in their game at ASU.

Both are listed at 6 feet 3. Mayle is 219 pounds, and Strong 215.

CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang judges Mayle to be a fourth- or fifth-round NFL prospect, calling him “a pretty spectacular athlete for a guy of that build. He’s still a bit of a work in progress. You see him be a little inconsistent with the sharpness of his routes and occasionally you’ll see a ball go through his hands. But for a big man, he can make people miss, and he can accelerate fluidly.

“So he’s not just a product of Mike Leach’s offense, he’s a legitimate NFL prospect.”

Out of high school in Sacramento, Mayle says, he wasn’t particularly motivated and his grades reflected it. He began at Shasta JC in northern California, where he played only basketball.

Then, he says, his mother was in an accident — he doesn’t discuss it, saying she prefers to let him be the story — and returned home. He worked several jobs and then decided to attend Sierra College, about 20 minutes from Sacramento.

He spent a year there (2011-12) out of athletics. “I lost a lot of friends that year, because I wasn’t doing the ‘cool’ thing,” he says. “I was being more focused on myself, so I can be the first person in my family to get this degree, and break the norm (of) my area — just being athletes but not being able to get the schoolwork done.”

Mayle says his high-school coaches coaxed him into playing football again, and he had a big year in 2012, catching 61 balls for 16 touchdowns. That drew interest from schools like Texas A&M, Ohio State, LSU and Houston, but the question of whether he had a single year of eligibility lingered.

Says Mayle, “I wasn’t chasing the big-name school, I was chasing the place I was most comfortable.”

That became WSU. Mayle was impressed to get a locker-room visit one day from Cougars outside receivers assistant Dennis Simmons, who would be his position coach. Simmons’ persistence might have made the difference for WSU.

An appointment with a coach at Sierra fell through, and, says Simmons, “as opposed to just leaving, I ended up waiting around outside for about two hours.”

At WSU, Mayle had to curb a tendency to think he had arrived — both because he was playing major-college football, and because he had superior physical skills. He was dismissive of the technical side of the game.

“I’d think, ‘That stuff is dumb, that stuff doesn’t work,’ ’’ he says. “As I started to practice it and got better at it, I was like, ‘OK, this stuff really works.’ ’’

About then came the pep talk from Yost, and not long after, an extra year courtesy of WSU’s petition to the NCAA. With two games left, and a 100-catch season on the horizon, Mayle has made the most of it.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com