KSU's Gates Enjoys the Ride

The NBA didn't want him, so he'll just be one of the top tight ends in NFL history...

You wish they would end up playing for the Browns, Cavaliers or Indians, but it's never a bad thing when someone from Northeast Ohio, or with strong ties to the region, makes it in pro sports.

And it makes it even more special when that sport is not the one to which everybody thought he was headed.

We introduce San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, whose story never gets old, especially around here, where he will be on Sunday – again – as the Chargers meet the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Gates, of course, is the former Kent State basketball star who, after not playing football since his senior year at Detroit Central High School, was signed as a free agent by the Chargers in 2003 and the rest is history.

Gates is a five-time Pro Bowler (2004-08) and a three-time All-Pro (2004-06), and was recently selected one of the 50 greatest Chargers of all-time. He is far and away their leading receiver this season with 59 catches for 827 yards (14.0 yards-per-reception average) and four touchdowns. This is nothing new, for he has paced the team in catches in each of the last five years.

However, this season could be even more noteworthy, for he is on track to surpass his career highs of 89 catches for 1,101 yards from 2005. He has caught at least three passes in every game this season and has made five or more receptions in nine of the Chargers' 11 contests.

For his career, Gates has 459 receptions for 5,893 yards and 55 scores, the fourth-most in NFL history among tight ends.

Not bad for someone who never played a down of college football, but wanted to – at least initially.

Upon leaving high school, Gates, highly-recruited in football, went to Michigan State with the understanding that he could play both football and basketball, but when Spartans head football coach John L. Smith balked at the proposal, Gates left the school, bounced around a little bit and ended up at Kent State for two years, where he played only basketball – and very well.

Gates, who now stands sixth on the school's all-time scoring list, was a key reason why the Flashes won back-to-back Mid-American Conference championships and advanced as far as the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

But 6-foot-4 swingmen don't make it in the NBA anymore, so the man who was the classic "tweener" had to look elsewhere if he wanted to play pro sports. He found what he was searching for by going back to the future.

"When I was playing basketball, I always had to prove I could play at the next level," Gates said in a conference call with the Cleveland media the other day. "In the NFL, they accepted me for who I was.

"It's like having two girls, one that you wanted and one that wants you. You end up taking the girl that wants you."

The Chargers wanted Gates six years ago, and they want him much, much more now. To be deemed one of the 50 best players the team has ever had is no small honor.

"I told (former Chargers stars) Kellen Winslow and Dan Fouts that they paved the way for me," Gates said. "When you're in the middle of doing it, you don't have time to think about, but when I'm done, I'll look back on this and enjoy it."

Gates said it will be "exciting" to come back to Ohio, where, in essence, it all started for him. The Browns and their fans would be excited, too, if Gates were coming back only to visit, or if he were wearing a basketball uniform.

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