Antonio Gates turned 35 last Thursday.
Looking at him, you’d hardly know it.
The future Hall of Fame tight end came into minicamp looking lean, fit and fired up to be with his quarterback, Philip Rivers, who he jawed with during breaks (as usual). The two have been teammates since 2004 and share neighboring lockers at Chargers Park.
“I just really hang my hat on being a professional,” Gates said recently, when asked about his physique and athleticism. “I try to eat clean – my wife might not think that – but I try to eat as clean as I can and I try to set the bar, if you will. I try to do the unthinkable. When you turn 35-years-old, people say what you can and can’t do. I try to find another goal and say, ‘Okay, I want to be the first 35-year-old guy to be considered the best in his position.’”
Gates, who was voted Chargers’ Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 by his teammates, is in the final year of his contract. It remains to be seen whether it will be his final year of professional football as well.
“To be honest with you, after the end of last year, just the physical wear-and-tear, it just took me some time to recover,” Gates acknowledged. “Your mind fluctuates whether you should come back, or you shouldn’t.
“I think the hardest thing for me will probably be adjusting as I get older; making certain adjustments. I’ve always said if I couldn’t be the player that I wanted to be on the football field, then I don’t know if I can play another role, because I’ve been playing this role for so long. I’ll just see what happens when I’m done with this season.”
Now in his 13th year in the NFL, Gates is the Chargers all-time leader in receptions (788), receiving yards (10,014) and touchdowns (99). Should he reach 100 TDs, he would be one of only two tight ends to notch that record – the other, being 14-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez.
Speaking of Gonzalez…
Gates was asked if he sees himself like the talented tight end, who played at a high level right up until retirement.
“Yeah, I do,” Gates said. “Obviously he was a phenomenal player in this league. He set the bar in many ways at this position.”
"I think the biggest motivation at this time in my career is a championship. To be honest with you, I think that would give me an advantage over him,” Gates added, laughing.
How sweet it would be for Gates if it came this year.
SDSuperChargers.com beat writer Annie Heilbrunn has been covering the Chargers since 2009. You can follow her on Twitter at @annieheilbrunn or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.