Records Falling Around Tate

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Brandon Tate arrived at North Carolina as a relatively unknown wide receiver prospect in the summer of '05. Now, in his senior season, the speedster has full intentions of breaking the NCAA's all-time kickoff return yardage record before departing Chapel Hill.

The Burlington, N.C. product's highlight film through his first three seasons of Division I ball is extensive and thrilling. There's the 90-yard kickoff return for touchdown against Notre Dame on national television during his sophomore season.

There's also the 58-yard punt return for touchdown against East Carolina last fall, followed by the 54-yard sweep around the left end for touchdown against Miami several weeks later. And then there's the 97-yard kickoff return and 54-yard punt return against Duke – both for touchdowns and both in the same game, earning the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder distinction as just the third person in UNC history and the ninth player in NCAA history to accomplish that feat.

Tate also holds ACC career records for kickoff return yards (2,383) and returns (98), and trails NCAA record holder Jeff Liggon of Tulane (2,922) by just 539 yards. Based on last season's 24.1 yards per kickoff return, the senior should break the NCAA record by the midway point of the fall's schedule.

Tate has not let the significance of those accomplishments go unnoticed.

"It's really important, because there have been a lot of great players that have come out of the ACC, and for me to break all of these records, it's just been a blessing from God," Tate said following Tuesday afternoon's practice. "I'm just going to go out and try to break some more… For me to possibly be holding the No. 1 spot in the NCAA records means that I've come a long way."

But the most intriguing fact surrounding Tate's career is that this season – his fourth and final – is the first in which the human highlight reel enters the fall as an established weapon within an offense that he fully understands. He still doesn't know the reasons why he saw minimal action at receiver during former head coach John Bunting's final two seasons, and he admits that plenty of mistakes were made across the board last fall simply because the players were trying to learn offensive coordinator John Shoop's scheme.

Tate believes those numbers can only go up this season.

"Coming into last year, the new coaches said that everyone had a clean slate," said Tate, who also totaled 479 yards on 25 receptions in ‘07. "So I went out and worked harder and harder everyday to show them that I could get better and that I was a receiver as well as a return man. This year, I've got experience under my belt and we've all learned more from the coaching staff, so this year should be fun to watch."

Tate's ability is unique in football. Rarely does a player catch the ball and the entire crowd holds its breath, opposing fans praying for a quick tackle and the Tar Heel faithful hoping for a touchdown. For Tate, that happens on every single play.

"That's just me – every time I get the ball, I'm thinking that I'm going to score," Tate said. "I'm trying to score every time, no matter what the play is."

That type of talent combined with a Butch Davis coaching staff loaded with NFL experience has Tate working towards a possible draft selection next April. In fact, there was a little interest in leaving following his junior season.

"When I saw some of the people that jumped early, I thought, ‘Man, I probably could have left this year,'" Tate said. "So for this year coming up, I decided that I was going to work harder than anybody so that I can be on television like some of those guys."

Tate earned All-ACC Honorable-Mention honors in 2007, and the conference recently voted him to the 2008 Preseason All-ACC Football Team as a return specialist. But his goals are actually much higher, indicating that the Tar Heels are gunning for the ACC Championship, while keeping a close eye on the national championship.

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