Antonio Gates didn’t have a single reception as a college soccer participant. He had 955 as a professional.
The former Kent State basketball star ended his NFL profession after sitting out the 2019 season. He hung up his cleats after 16 seasons with the Chargers, the membership that took a likelihood on an inexperienced athletic dynamo again in 2003.
Gates’ legacy has a few totally different shapes. As a star participant who did not make it to even the AFC title sport, he embodies the Chargers’ eternally cursed destiny. As a tight finish, he made extra landing catches than anybody else on the place in league historical past. But his truest worth would be the instance he set for different hardworking hardwood stars seeking to reinvent themselves as receivers as a substitute of rebounders.
Gates went from college basketball star to NFL All-Pro in shockingly little time
Antonio Gates was speculated to be a two-sport athlete at Michigan State, however then-coach Nick Saban’s demand he hand over basketball and give attention to soccer full time modified his profession trajectory. He left East Lansing to start out a winding path that detoured by means of Eastern Michigan University and the College of the Sequoias earlier than touchdown on the Kent State basketball crew. By that time, soccer was an afterthought.
As a junior, Gates led the Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight as a brief however efficient energy ahead. As a senior, he completed fourth within the Mid-American Conference in scoring (20.6 factors per sport), seventh in rebounding (7.7), and sixth in assists (4.1) whereas main Kent State to a division title and an NIT berth. There was a downside, nevertheless; he was solely 6’4. While which will have led to some provides to play abroad, the NBA wasn’t an possibility for him.
The NFL was.
Gates guess on himself by organising exercises with NFL groups in the summertime of 2003. His first assembly was with San Diego, who didn’t let him depart with out a signed contract. An 0-4 Chargers crew threw him into the beginning lineup in Week 5 of his rookie season and by no means seemed again. Less than a yr after leaving basketball behind, he’d torch unassuming NFL protection for 16.2 yards per catch as Drew Brees’ x-factor.
His subsequent three seasons have been the most effective stretches any NFL tight finish has ever recorded. Gates caught 241 passes for 2,989 yards and a league-best 32 touchdowns. No different tight finish had greater than 20 in that span. Three straight first-team All-Pro nods adopted, and the undersized energy ahead grew to become an integral cog within the Chargers’ offense alongside Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson.
This was the height of his profession, however he was nonetheless extraordinarily good within the aftermath. He’d common 900 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns in his age 27-34 seasons, churning alongside as different tight ends wore down. While he flirted with retirement in his late 30s, he stored exhibiting up as soon as it grew to become clear the Chargers — and previous good friend Rivers — wanted him to field out defensive backs in the long run zone.
That ended after he sat out the 2019 season, however Gates nonetheless completed his profession with 5 All-Pro honors, eight Pro Bowl selections, nearly 12,000 receiving yards, and an virtually sure spot within the Hall of Fame. His affect might be felt within the NFL lengthy after he’s retired.
Gates was the bellwether for a lengthy record of 2000s basketball stars who wished to roast cornerbacks as a substitute of forwards
Gates wasn’t the primary participant to go from college basketball participant to trendy NFL star. Tony Gonzalez — who’d battle with Gates for All-Pro nods and tight finish receiving data by means of an equally wonderful profession — and Julius Peppers have been every two-sport college stars who made the transition with aplomb. But the training curve was a lot steeper for Gates to return out of nowhere and flip linebackers into turf scorch marks as a professional. Like Cowboys star Cornell Green earlier than him, he had to take action with out enjoying a snap of college soccer.
Even although he enrolled at three totally different Division I faculties that would have used his companies on the gridiron, his focus didn’t depart the hardwood till he was informed his NBA profession wasn’t going to work. Then he gave the NFL proof a burly, undersized energy ahead will be the league’s good tight finish prototype.
In the years since, scouts have been extra receptive to a transition like Gates’. Jimmy Graham is probably the most well-known instance.
He joined the University of Miami soccer crew as a senior within the midst of 4 strong however unspectacular years of Hurricane basketball. He confirmed sufficient potential to be chosen within the third spherical of the 2010 NFL Draft regardless of simply 17 NCAA receptions and would go on to grow to be a five-time Pro Bowler — explicitly citing Gates as “paving the way” for his place within the NFL.
Graham isn’t alone. Julius Thomas made a related profession determination as Graham, lacing up his cleats at tight finish his senior season at Portland State whereas enjoying 4 years with the varsity’s basketball crew. When it grew to become clear his 6’5 body wasn’t sufficient to make it within the NBA, he’d go on to make a pair of Pro Bowls and play in a Super Bowl with the Broncos. He cited Gates because the participant he tried to emulate probably the most on the sphere.
Darren Fells didn’t play a snap of soccer at UC-Irvine and spent 5 years enjoying in numerous worldwide basketball leagues earlier than giving soccer a attempt in 2013. After bouncing round a few totally different rosters, he’s since settled in as Deshaun Watson’s high tight finish goal within the pink zone with the Texans.
Rico Gathers went from All-Big 12 basketball honors as a rebound-swallowing heart to a spot within the Cowboys’ tight finish rotation regardless of enjoying zero snaps at Baylor. Demetrius Harris and Mo Alie-Cox every made the leap to the NFL regardless of attending schools that didn’t even have varsity soccer applications (Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Virginia Commonwealth, respectively).
More players will observe, as a result of Gates didn’t simply shift from energy ahead to tight finish, he kicked a entire lot of ass within the course of. The Chargers legend wasn’t worse off for ditching Saban in East Lansing twenty years in the past — in actual fact, that lack of college soccer mileage might have simply cleared the trail for an epic 16-year profession.
Now he’ll transition into the subsequent a part of his life. Fortunately for Gates, he’ll get the prospect to relive his wonderful journey each time a punishing energy ahead turns into a regular pink zone goal within the NFL.