Tate: Big Play Potential

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Brandon Tate already owns several Atlantic Coast Conference and North Carolina school records for his play in the return game on special teams. This fall, the projected starter at wide receiver is looking to carry that success over to coordinator John Shoop's offense.

Tate ranked second in the ACC in punt return average (9.7) and sixth in kickoff return average (23.7) in 2006, and became only the ninth person in NCAA history to return a punt and a kickoff for scores in the same game – the 45-44 thriller at Duke. But those achievements never translated into former OC Frank Cignetti's offense, as Tate only caught five balls for 72 yards.

The junior welcomed Shoop's new offensive scheme this offseason, and responded by shooting up the depth chart to a first-string slot alongside sophomore Hakeem Nicks.

"It's a big difference," Tate said. "That means I've come a long way. I've been working hard in the weight room and on and off the field. Just trying to show [head] coach [Butch Davis] that I really want it on offense, not just on special teams, and Coach is giving me a chance to show what I can do."

The Burlington, N.C. native worked diligently on his pass-catching skills following workouts this summer, as well as focusing on the mental aspects of Shoop's demanding sets.

"This offense is more difficult," Tate said. "They're trying to spread the ball around to pretty much everybody. They want the playmakers to get the ball. Last year, the offense – we just basically tried to run the ball most of the time, so this year should be more interesting."

His gaudy stats in the return game have a lot of UNC fans anticipating a breakout season from Tate, but he's not about to let the high expectations make him nervous.

"No – I'm already looking forward to it," Tate said. "That's why I try to go out in practice and make big plays, and just try to catch the coach's eye."

The NCAA elected to move kickoffs back five yards to the 30-yard line this season, a decision that new ACC Coordinator of Football Officials Doug Rhoads said would allow for returns on almost every kickoff. The rules change has not affected Tate's approach, though – he was already expecting to return every kickoff, regardless of where the ball was placed.

"No – I'm still looking at it the same way," Tate said. "I just humble myself and go out to practice trying to return every kick anyway, but sometimes they won't kick it to me, so I just have to find another way to get the ball."

His tendency to make people miss, as well as his ability to see the field, provides him with the needed skills to excel on special teams. But it takes more than that to establish yourself as one of the best nationally.

"I'm fearless – I'm not scared of [anybody] but God," Tate said. "Like my teammates – I'll tell them to go out there and catch some punts, but they're like ‘no, I'm not doing it, I'm scared.' I don't care – I'm just trying to get out here and help the team."

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