Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Unanimous | by Pat

Golden Tate's run of post-season awards has resulted in him becoming the first Notre Dame wide receiver to win the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's best wide receiver and the first Irish Unanimous All-American since Shane Walton in 2002. He's the first offensive player to reach the unaimous status since Aaron Taylor in 1993 and the first WR since Rocket in 1990.

The Unanimous status comes from being named to the 1st Team All-America list by the five major post-season award lists: the Associated Press, America Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp Football Foundation, and Sporting News. Tate is one of 12 players who made the 1st team on all five and earned the "Unanimous" distinction.

Tate is the 31st Fighting Irish player to earn Unanimous All-American status, the most of any program in the country.

Rather than continue to sign his praises and project his future in the NFL, I thought it might be fun to take a look back when he was a recruit that many weren't sure would wind up at running back, wide receiver, or cornerback. ESPN wins the prediction award as they bucked the "low-4 star athlete" label given by Scout and Rivals and named Tate as the #3 wide receiver in the class and a Top 20 recruit. It was certainly an outlier pick at the time that was used to criticize ESPN's rankings. I suppose they deserve the last laugh here.

For an even more interesting look into Tate's recruitment and proof that coaches just weren't sure where he fit , here's an excerpt from Bruce Feldman's book Meat Market, which covered a year of recruiting at Ole Miss under then head coach Ed Orgeron.

Many of the evaluation tapes the Rebels would see that morning would be of defensive players or at least prospects they were targeting as defensive players. With the lights dimmed, a red introduction panel appeared on the big screen in front of the room: Golden Tate -- 5'11", 185, 4.4 -- Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Every tape was labeled with an intro like this, although about the only things Orgeron took for granted were the kid's name and the town he came from. As for height, weight, and time in the 40-yard dash, Orgeron would believe it when he or a member of his staff measured it. He had seen more than his share of times when high schools and the recruiting services overinflated a kid's dimensions or speed.

The Rebels saw Golden Tate as a cornerback. His tape, however, began with a series of dazzling offensive plays. He was juking would-be tacklers, leaving them staggering into each other. He was spinning. He was cutting. He was stopping and starting. His ability to regain top speed, going from first to fourth gear, was startling. That kind of quickness was critical for a defensive back who had to break on the football after a receiver had made his cut. Tate also was showing go-the-distance speed, running away from everyone on the field. A few other clips displayed that he had good hands and could make catches in traffic.

"We sure he's not a running back?" Orgeron asked.

"I talked to him," responded Freeze, the coach who recruits Tennessee, "and he says it doesn't matter."

Orgeron: "Only thing we gotta figure out is, what's our strategy? I know he says it doesn't matter, but somebody somewhere is going to sell this kid on something."

Freeze: "We're one of the first to offer him. But Tennessee's also offered him."

Orgeron: "You're not afraid of Tennessee, are you?"

Freeze: "No, sir, I am not."
This particular excerpt was from Signing Day the year before Tate would ultimately sign with the Irish. ND didn't offer Tate for another 9 months, but it was the offer he was waiting for and he committed to ND a few weeks after receiving it. From there it was the Purdue game in 2007 where he was just told to run past everyone and catch the ball to some amazing catches and runs in 2008 where we all started to see his skill, to this season where no team (or band) was able to stop him. It certainly was a fast three years, wasn't it? And as much as we all wanted him back for another year, probably no one hoped Tate would be back for a fourth more than Kelly.
He[Tate] and junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen, another draft early entry, stopped by new Irish coach Brian Kelly's office on Tuesday, not to say they had changed their minds about the NFL but to say hello.

“I tried to lock them in my office, but they wouldn't have any part of that,” Kelly quipped. “You know what it said to me was the class both those kids have.

“They didn't have to come up here and see me, but they went out of their ways during exams to come up and see me. You know I put my best pitch on to try to keep them. I understand they've got a great opportunity. ... It just means that their sideline passes are going to be more expensive when they come back.”