He remembers the obstacles he faced his true freshman season at Mississippi State after being moved to the offensive line.
"I remember my freshman year during the summer, fall and the season when (MSU offensive line) Coach (J.B.) Grimes was talking to the other freshmen on the offensive line and they understood things that I didn't," said Gates. "It took me a little while longer to understand what he was talking about.
"Coach Grimes told me during my freshman year that I had to stop being so hard on myself as far as wanting to get everything perfect right off the bat. Now, I finally understand everything and just want to learn more because I'm nowhere through learning."
But it took him several years to get to the point where he is now.
"It really didn't hit me until last season, about midway in the season," said Gates. "I started to get the feel for everything. We were practicing and running plays and everything started to click - footwork, hat placement, hands placement - everything started to go together. It started to come natural to me."
What doesn't come natural to him are the summer workouts.
"(Laugh) It's something you have to get used to," said Gates, referring to the almost 2 hours of daily summer workouts led by MSU strength coach Ben Pollard. "I can look back from my freshman year to right now and see that it's gotten a whole lot harder, but it's not as much of a pain to me like it was my freshman year. I have gotten more mature and understand, in order to be successful, you have to have the hard times during the summer."
But he understands the reasoning behind the increase in difficulty of the summer workouts.
"We had a pretty good season last year, but the coaches expect even more out of us this season," said Gates. "We've picked it up this year because we have higher goals - we want to win the championship so we have to do more to do that."
And, as a senior leader on the team, he's making sure the freshman understand why workouts are so difficult.
"I tell them to keep the right mindset right off the bat because it's going to be hard, but they will see the benefits," said Gates.
He's hopeful one benefit will be playing on the next level, although there's some unfinished business to take care of before that can happen.
"I want a shot to go to the NFL, but right now I'm focusing on this season and an SEC Championship," said Gates. "That's our goal and we won't accept anything less."
As for that budding career in basketball that he gave up back in high school, Gates doesn't think much about it any longer.
"I kind of look back sometimes and think about basketball, but I'm a football player now," said Gates.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.