Small-Town Boy Trying to Make it Big-Time

On the southeast corner of Kansas lies the small, unincorporated town of Riverton. It's here among a population of just more than 1,000 that a young LDS athlete with big dreams seemingly missed his opportunity. However, he is now trying to make his mark on BYU much like the old U.S. Route 66 has done to Riverton.

Over the past year, 5-foot-11-inch, 184-pound athlete Brenton Cates' world has been twisted around like the dark tornadoes that often sweep havoc through the state. But if all goes well for Cates, his story could be a feel-good one in which he is swept up from the heartland of Kansas and set down right on the doorstep of Brigham Young University.

"I played high school football in Kansas," said Cates. "I played for the Riverton High School Rams. I played both ways. On offense I played running back most of the time and I also played slot receiver my junior year. My senior year I was a running back and played some slot, but not much. I also played free safety also on defense. I was also a punt returner and kickoff returner as well.

"For my senior year, I had 1,887 yards rushing I think it was, and I scored 28 touchdowns that year," continued Cates, who runs a 4.39 forty. "My junior year as a free safety, I had four interceptions, and my senior year I didn't have any interceptions but I was listed at the top of the list in tackles. We just had a really good defensive line that year and they just dominated everyone, so us in the backfield didn't really have to do much."

During his senior year the Rams were a dominant force, even beating the Erie Red Devils 60-0.

"We were conference champions and went 12-1, we were sectional champions, we were regional champions and district champions," said Cates. "When came to being state champions we were runner up. They just kind of came up and nipped us in the bud."

After the season, Cates received a variety of awards and honors.

"I made First-Team All-State running back, First-Team All-State defensive back and I was Southeast Kansas Offensive Player of the Year for 3A," Cates recalled. "I was named the All-Area First-Team and I was named the Second-Team best running back coming out of Kansas my senior year from 1A to 6A. I lost the state's best running back pick to Bryce Brown, who's playing for the University of Tennessee."

There was no shame in finishing behind Brown, as he was ranked the No. 2 running back in the country by Scout and the No. 8 overall prospect on the ESPNU 150.

For his accomplishments, Cates was recruited by a number of different programs.

"I had a few colleges recruiting me," recalled Cates. "I had Kansas, Kansas State, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois and had a few letters from Florida as well as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State."

While he hadn't yet received an offer, Cates was confident the offers were on their way.

"They were going to offer me," said Cates. "At least that is what I was led to believe. They were working with me on my ACT and knowing what I needed to do to become eligible for their programs. They were trying to work things out with me and I thought for sure one of them would take me."

However, that all changed after Cates informed the coaches recruiting him about his plans to serve a mission.

"After I told all the coaches my plans they just slowly stopped talking to me," said Cates. "They just all lost contact with me and left. After I told them I wanted to serve my mission no one wanted to take a chance with me."

Cates never did get his ACT scores up to the level where he could attend a Division I college, so he did the next best thing and went to junior college.

"I signed at Butler [Junior College] because I wanted to play football so badly," said Cates. "They have a really good program and they were ranked number one in 2009, and then a few years before that they won back-to-back national titles. The coach there told me that I could not only play football but also run track there. I've always had dreams of playing in the NFL and running in the Olympics, so running track in college was also something that appealed to me.

"I got out there and probably about a week-and-a-half in camp and the head football coach just came up to me and told me, ‘You know, you're just a football player here.' I said, ‘What?' and he said, ‘You're just a football player here.' I was kind of upset but didn't want him to know that given what he promised me. I didn't want to seem mad, but in my head I was thinking, ‘You know, you promised me I could run track if I came here, and I'm more than just a football player. I'm willing to work hard to do whatever it takes to do both.'"

Confused and hurt, Cates wondered if his choice to go to Butler was the right one.

"I was kind of bummed out because I didn't want to waste one year of eligibility at a JUCO and had second thoughts about trying to have four years at the Division I level again," said Cates. "So I got down on my knees and I said, ‘Heavenly Father, I need some help. I'm so confused and I don't know where to go. Can you help me?'"

Petitioning for help from on high, Cates quickly received his answer.

"I just got the answer that I needed to go home and I needed to start preparing for my mission," Cates said. "I was like ‘Okay,' so I got up and I left and that's where I am today."

That set Cates on the path to Twin Falls, Idaho.

"I came up here to prepare to serve my mission pretty much," said Cates. "I came up here to work to save money and work out as much as I can. I just wanted to be in a good environment. My family is still back in Missouri and Kansas. I'm living up here in Twin Falls, Idaho with a family that I know that used to go to church with me back in Missouri. People say this is a small town here, but from where I lived compared to here it's a lot bigger."

The family he's staying with is not only helping him prepare for his mission, but also helping him prepare for the ACT so that he might have a chance at the next level.

"I'm still working on that right now while I prepare for my mission," said Cates. "I'm going to start studying with some of the people that I live with. I'm going to try and pass that before I leave on my mission so maybe a college can pick me up when I get back."

After moving to Idaho, Cates came across an opportunity to potentially get noticed by some schools.

"I came out here to Idaho to prepare for my mission and I got talking to my sister's future fiancé," said Cates. "He knew a guy named Jeff Walker who said he could help me with getting recruited by having people hear about me before I leave on my mission. I thought that was awesome, thinking I could come home off my mission and play ball somewhere."

So, Cates got in contact with Walker.

"I was introduced to him over the phone and as far as I know he used to coach at UCLA," said Cates. "I don't know what he's doing now but he just said he likes helping kids get recruited and help them get a shot, help with them with their dreams."

Cates had his own dream school well in mind.

"He asked me what school I would like to play at and I said, ‘Well, I would really, really, really like to play at BYU.' I just thought the atmosphere up there would be awesome and it would be a perfect place for me because of my religion. I just thought it would be a good fit because people wouldn't judge me because I was Mormon.

"I just told him that playing up at BYU would be just so awesome, especially after watching what they did to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. That was pretty exciting and I just want to play ball."

That wasn't the only game that got Cates excited about BYU, however.

"I was so excited to see BYU beat Oklahoma because I hate Oklahoma. I hate Oklahoma and that's why I was just so excited. I loved it. I loved it because they were considered the underdogs and they pulled it out."

The winds of change will carry Cates from Twin Falls to Provo in a few days when he will meet with coaches Mark Weber and Brandon Doman this Friday at BYU.

Those winds haven't quite blown in Cates' final chapter yet, but this could potentially be an incredible start to a journey he's only dreamed about.

"I'm so freaking excited. My whole, whole, whole life's dream has been to play Division I football and show everybody that a small-town kid can make it just as well as a big-time kid. You don't have to have money or be famous or whatever. You just have to have a big heart and never give up and work your butt of as much as you can. You just have to never give up until you accomplish what you want to do and never let others bring you down. I'm just so excited. Hopefully they'll like what they see."

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