Tate eyes ultimate return

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Golden Tate believes he had no choice but to leave Notre Dame early. But the Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowler also wants to finish what he started.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Golden Tate wrapped another off-season on Thursday, exiting the Detroit Lions practice fields drenched in sweat. Soon the former Notre Dame All-American and current Pro Bowl receiver will be on the sand in California, jetting to his off-season home in Hermosa Beach.

Once there he’ll reconnect with Jimmy Clausen, who lives a half hour north in Santa Monica. The former teammates turned NFC North rivals will meet to throw, their bond tight enough that Tate stood up in Clausen’s wedding last winter.

“We threw several times this past summer and from day one it’s like we never skipped a beat, it’s like clockwork,” Tate said. “He’s throwing the ball, I’m catching it, you can’t help but reminisce on the past.”

Tate was in the mood for it this week, even with his present as bright as it’s even been. After four years in Seattle that included a Super Bowl ring, Tate signed a five-year deal with the Lions worth a reported $31 million. Then he backed it up with 99 catches, 1,331 yards and four touchdowns last fall, playing his way into the Pro Bowl.

And while Tate said he has no regrets about leaving Notre Dame early, he also wonders about a hypothetical senior year, especially if Charlie Weis stayed on and Clausen returned with Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Michael Floyd. Tate even speculated how the BCS National Championship Game would have gone if the ’09 Irish offense paired with the ’12 defense.

“I hated to leave college,” Tate said. “You know me back at Notre Dame, I loved college. I loved the whole atmosphere, the student body, being involved in the community, playing baseball. I loved it all.

“I hated to leave, but I wasn’t gonna be the one to stay when coach Weis fed me the ball, I had 93 catches, and then my quarterback is gone. What am I gonna do? I sort of had no choice.”

So Tate followed Clausen out the door.

He may follow him back to campus too.

Clausen, dogged by injuries and replaced by Cam Newton in Carolina after his rookie season, returned to Notre Dame to earn his degree in December of 2013. Tate has an eye on the same, eventually.

Tate said he’s “25 or 26” credits short of his degree. He took some classes after Notre Dame at the University of Tennessee during the NFL’s lockout four years ago.

“I want to get my degree,” Tate said. “When I went to Notre Dame, that was my full intention. I’m two semesters away and one semester has to be spent on campus, they say. I’m 26-years old. It’s gonna be tough, but I’ll try to chip away as much as I can.”

Tate has returned a handful of times since turning pro, including for a night game against USC. He credited Weis and his pro-style offense for giving him a step on NFL competition, even during a frustrating rookie year in Seattle of 21 catches and 38 targets.

To put his development in perspective, Tate was targeted 142 times last season in Detroit, even while playing alongside future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson.

“There was a lot of days and a lot of nights where I second-guessed myself, maybe this isn’t for me,” Tate said. “I came into Pete Carroll where I saw 225 transactions within a year. Guys coming in, leaving, returning, guys never seeing another team. Them signing big-time receivers pretty much indicating that I wasn’t good enough.”

Tate eventually bubbled up the depth chart in Seattle, improving his numbers annually before leaving for Detroit, where the Lions split him wide, put him in the slot, work him through the backfield and try him in the return game.

Basically, it’s the same stuff he did at Notre Dame, just on a bigger stage.

“It’s been fun, but it’s been a lot of trials and tribulations,” Tate said. “Overall, it’s been a huge learning experience. I’ve gone through a whole lot.”

Through it all, Tate maintains a nostalgia for Notre Dame. It’s something he may rekindle if he returns to earn his degree.

“It’s a sense of family there, man,” Tate said. “I miss going to the dining hall where all my best friends were … obviously smacking that sign and walking down those stairs. I just wish we would have won more games.”

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