The conversation was memorable between this reporter and Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack nearly three years ago when Rebel LB DeMarquis Gates first donned the Red & Blue.
"What about the Gates kid? He certainly looks the part."
"He's the real deal," said Wommack, "if we could just convince him he doesn't have to make every tackle, to trust and play within the system and to trust those around him. If he will do those things, he will be a very, very good college football player."
A player trying to do too much. Hmmm, not something you hear every day in covering a team. Usually it's the other way around - they need to do more.
"If you are trying to do someone else's job, you are usually not taking care of your own," noted Wommack at the time. "You get out of position and the whole defense breaks down."
"Coming from high school where I felt I had to make all the plays and do everyone's job, it was a tough transition for me," said DeMarquis. "When you trust the people around you, things work out right. It took me time to develop that trust, but now that I have, I can see a difference in my play and in those around me. We just have to be disciplined and do what the coaches tell us to do and things will work out. I see that clearly now, but it took some time."
DeMarquis didn't learn that completely his first year,, even though he bypassed a redshirt and did play some as a true freshman. He totaled 13 tackles on the year.
Early in 2015, his sophomore year, he was still catching on, but midway through the season, the light came on and he lit it up, culminating with a 14-tackle effort against LSU in a Rebel win and forcing two turnovers against Mississippi State as the Rebs secured the Egg Bowl trophy in Starkville.
"I feel real good where I am now and where I ended last year," said Gates, nearing the end of spring training 2016. "I have a lot more responsibility and power, so to speak, now. I can control things more on defense and I can step up and be more of a leader. I like being a leader."
Gates is working at the Mike LB and Stinger LB slots.
"I know both positions well so it doesn't matter which one I am playing. I just want to get the job done and if playing both will help the team, so be it," noted Gates. "We just signed two older linebackers who will be here this summer so it will be good for me to know both and see how they fit in. Since they are older guys, and have played college ball, I don't think it will be difficult for them to come in and learn our system so it's good I have some versatility within the system. I like being able to run sideline to sideline and in our defense, both LBs do that, so i don't care where I play."
Gates is very confident about the direction he's going and in his prospects for 2016 and beyond.
"I think I'm going to have a blowout season. I think this defense is going to be good too. The defensive line is going to be good, the secondary should be good and we are going to be good in the middle - I am going to make sure of that. I'm going to make more plays to help the team, but I'm going to do it within the system," he closed. "Last year, I learned to stay focused. I learned to stay calm when something didn't go right and to help keep the guys around me calm too. I learned to play one play at a time.
"The future is going to be good."
Gates is now the whole package - physically talented and mentally ready.
The middle of the Rebel defense should be in good hands.
The man who was trying to do too much is doing just the right amount now and it's paying dividends in his production.