Hendersonville, Tenn. wide receiver Golden Tate played in all 12 games last season for the Irish, mostly on special teams, but his output against Purdue last season is what caught every Irish fan's eye. The then freshman caught three passes for 104 yards and his first Irish touchdown, and he sure looked good doing it.
Tate made a number of spectacular plays during his freshman season, and showed excellent ball skills while the ball was in the air.
"I honestly think it has something to do with baseball," the sophomore receiver said when asked how he always seems to come down with the football. "A baseball is a smaller ball, and you have a mitt, but I just try to focus. I know that's one of my advantages, and I know I have confidence in my hands. I just focus. I feel I can catch any ball that touches my hands. I feel if I don't catch any ball, regardless of where the throw is, I count it as a drop."
The Purdue game was quite a coming out party for Tate, but he struggled to duplicate that showing the rest of the season logging a total of six catches on the year. However, Tate did show some excellent speed, and that is something the Irish desperately need in the receiving corps. But first, Tate has to learn how to be a wide receiver after playing running back his whole high school career.
"It was very difficult. I came in as a running back and I didn't know the plays," Tate recalled of his first season as a wide receiver. "(I) didn't have the fundamentals down, the footwork and the technique. As a freshman, all that being thrown at you was really frustrating, but when coach called a go, I could run a go. There wasn't much to it, just use your speed to get by the guy.
"This last spring, and this camp, I've really been focusing on running something other than a go. I've been trying to become a complete receiver in blocking, running routes, and just understanding the defense. That's what I've really been focusing on this camp."
Tate's inexperience does put him at a small disadvantage compared to the other wide receivers on the Irish roster as they have played the position before coming to Notre Dame, but the former USA Today Second Team All-American said he's not accepting any excuses.
"I try not to think of it that way," Tate said of the drawbacks of being behind the other receivers in knowledge of the position. "I try to pay attention, even when I'm not in. I listen to the play and visualize what should happen on this play. It makes it somewhat easier. Coach Ianello is always willing to stay after practice to talk to me, and help me understand. David Grimes is obviously the leader, and he's a great leader and teaches me what I need to know."
Compounding the problem has been the fact that Tate is such a great athlete that he also stars on the Notre Dame baseball team as a centerfielder for the Irish. Time on the baseball field takes away time to learn the receiver position, but Tate says he wouldn't have it any other way.
"It did put me behind. I don't regret the decision," he said when asked if playing baseball might hurt his football career. "I love football and I love baseball. Right now I'm 100 percent football, learning all I can. Once baseball comes then I'm 100 percent baseball until spring comes, and then we work the schedule. Yes, it does put me behind, but you have to work hard. I made the decision to play both sports. I have to take responsibility on catching up on what I need to know."
Now the former Pope John Paul II high school star says he's finally learned what he needs to know and is putting it to good use on the field.
"I feel like I trust myself and the coaches trust me in knowing the plays," he said. "My fundamentals are getting better. They're obviously not perfect, but they're getting better. I'm feeling more comfortable at the receiver position. I'm feeling like a receiver versus a running back at the receiver position. I'm excited about this year."
One of Tate's biggest obstacles has been at the line of scrimmage. He says he's worked hard in the off season to get better at coming off the snap at the line of scrimmage.
"That's probably been my top struggle, getting off the line," he admitted. "I'm learning. I'm getting better. Even yesterday, I could tell I was getting better because I was getting off the line easier. I feel like if I can get off the line and get past the DB, I figure that's a win."
Tate also has an excellent group of defensive backs he competes against on the Irish defense. He readily admits that this unit isn't the easiest to compete against but they are making him a much better player.
"Those are three really physical cornerbacks," he said of Raeshon McNeil, Gary Gray and Leonard Gordon. "And even Robert Blanton. Blanton's been giving me trouble. He's a great athlete. He's a freshman coming in. I wouldn't be surprised if he saw the field this year. He's a physical guy. He has terrific feet. Slaughter's learning. He's getting more physical. It can do nothing but help us. Hopefully we're helping the DBs when we're releasing, teaching them things."
The speedy receiver knows he has a long ways to go before he becomes a complete receiver, but he's hopeful that will happen real soon.
"I'm getting more and more confidence each day," he said. "I feel like I can compete with anyone right now. I still have a lot to work on, but I feel like I'm turning the corner on that. I just want to be a complete receiver who can block, run great routes and catch the football. That's what I'm working for."
Tate Finally Feeling Like a Receiver
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