A little over two years ago that Chargers sent then tight ends coach Tim Brewster out to Kent State to watch Antonio Gates perform football drills. He had not played since high school, preferring the hardwood to the gridiron.
With only two teams in attendance, Brewster came away more than impressed. When it came down to Cleveland and San Diego, Brewster lobbied for the basketball player with the football body.
"The best thing this kid has going is his ability to be an athlete, run, catch, stretch the field and really bring a nice competitive nature to the team," Brewster said of his former protégé.
A former top recruit of Nick Saban when he was with Michigan State decided to go the basketball route. But on April 17, 2003 that all changed. Brewster made the recommendation and rode his student hard as a rookie.
He wanted to make him better.
After amassing 18 receptions near the tail end of his rookie campaign, Gates dedicated himself fully to the sport of football in the offseason and was rewarded with Pro Bowl honors in 2004.
"His hand-eye coordination is outstanding," added Brewster. "He really sees the ball well into his hands. These are things he does very, very easily."
He accounted for one-fifth of the Chargers offense in 2004, earning Pro Bowl honors and setting the single-season record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end with 13.
As the go-to guy for quarterback Drew Brees he hauled in 81 catches for 964 yards – and faced double-teams for over half the season.
His breakout helped the Chargers win the AFC West with a 12-4 record.
"When I walked into that locker room, the love from my teammates, I realized I didn't want to be anywhere else," Gates said. "I wanted to be a San Diego Charger."
The feeling is mutual and it may not have happened without the influence of a man who is now with the Denver Broncos.