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Newz Forum: FOOTBALL: Chargers find gem in former basketball star Gates

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posted on Oct, 14 2004 @ 09:10 PM
SAN DIEGO -- If this truly is the year the San Diego Chargers rebound, how fortunate for them that former college basketball star Antonio Gates has become one of their go-to guys.

Just 2½ years ago, Gates helped take the Kent State Golden Flashes within one win of the Final Four. Now he's the Chargers' starting tight end, nicely complementing star running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

So far, it's been a slam dunk for a team that desperately needed one. And Gates' transition has been pretty amazing, considering he hadn't played football for five years until signing with San Diego in May 2003 as an undrafted rookie.

"It hasn't necessarily sunk in," Gates said. "When you're in the moment, things happen."

Gates has become Drew Brees' favorite target, catching a team-high 31 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns, including two in last Sunday's 34-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that improved the Chargers to 3-2.

"People say, 'He played basketball.' And I kind of say, 'Well, I'm in the NFL right now, and I'm a starting tight end,' " Gates said. "So I want people to give me the same expectations they do a starting tight end who played four years at Miami coming in to play. That's just the way I look at things."

Former general manager Bobby Beathard used to take chances on track guys -- most failed miserably -- and current GM A.J. Smith took a gamble with Gates, who turned to the NFL because he was undersized for the NBA.

Gates was recommended by an agent. The Chargers liked what they saw, even though they couldn't get a hold of Gates' game films from Detroit's Central High.

"Sometimes you get lucky," Smith admitted. "We're not going to take credit for identifying a great talent. We're very fortunate. We thought he had all the ability in the world, but we had no idea he would advance this quickly."

Gates started the final nine games last year, when San Diego was an NFL-worst 4-12. He had 24 catches for 389 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can appreciate Gates' transition, having played quarterback at Indiana as well as hoops for Bobby Knight.

"He may be a little bit unique in that even though he was a basketball player, the Lord has blessed him with a football player's body," Cameron said.

Gates is 6-foot-4, 260 pounds.

Cameron credits tight ends coach Tim Brewster, as well as coach Marty Schottenheimer's system, with helping Gates develop. He also remembers Gates telling him: "I came into the NFL with no bad habits."

"He bought into the way he's being taught and he wants the football," Cameron said. "You can't have too many guys like that, who are willing to listen, be coachable, and yet at the same time want the ball in critical situations."

Said Gates: "Everything I'm learning is firsthand."

Gates wowed his teammates when Schottenheimer held a free-throw shooting contest at the end of an offseason workout.

"He's left-handed, and there's nothing prettier than a good-looking left-handed jump shot with someone who knew how to use it," Cameron said. "It was pretty obvious this guy could play basketball."

Gates, who bounced around three colleges before settling at Kent State, said he doesn't think about basketball during the NFL season. But he's not shy about using his hoops skills on the field.

"When the ball is thrown to me, I'm in an attack mode because I'm so used to boxing out guys who are bigger than me and taller than me," said Gates, who was a physical rebounder at Kent State and an honorable mention AP All-American as a senior.

He hopes teams keep covering him one-on-one.

"That little shake that I had in basketball, it's kind of like, 'I'm glad it's man coverage.' Granted I get jammed, but I feel when a guy's holding me man-to-man, he can't guard me because he couldn't do it with a basketball in my hand, and now I'm free."

Gates has caught six more balls than all the Chargers' wide receivers combined.

"Gates is very good right now, but he's only going to get better," Brees said. "I'm not sure if he even knows how good he can actually be."

Gates' emergence certainly has been noticed by Atlanta coach Jim Mora, whose Atlanta Falcons host the Chargers on Sunday.

"There's always that training camp story, you know, that guy that didn't play in college," Mora said. "Through the first three weeks of training camp, he looks pretty good, everybody gets fired up about him, and then he gets cut. That hasn't happened to this kid. I'm impressed."

posted on Oct, 15 2004 @ 12:50 PM
Hmm, this sounds like a familiar story. Basketball players have to have good hands and moving to football, the ball is smaller and should be easier to catch. As far as being familiar... ever hear of Tony Gonzalez?

Addendum: (via
On the basketball court, he helped lead Cal to the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament ... Played in 28 games (six starts), averaging 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game ... Started all three of the club's tourney games in place of injured Pac 10 Player of the Year, Ed Gray and posted a season-high 23 points in Cal's second-round NCAA tournament win vs. Villanova

Orange County & Sunset League MVP in basketball as he averaged 26.0 points per game, shooting 65 percent from the field (234 of 365) in his final year.

Lettered in both football and basketball at Huntington Beach High School in Huntington Beach, California.

Was named the Co-Orange County High School Athlete of the Year along with Tiger Woods.

Appeared in a series of "Buckle Up: Football is a Game, Your Life is Not" ads promoting seat belt usage in memory of the late Derrick Thomas.

[Edited on 10/15/2004 by crayon]


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