When Antonio Gates accepted a football scholarship to play for Coach Nick Saban and the Michigan State Spartans, his plan was to leverage it to reach his ultimate goal: to play major college basketball in the Big Ten Conference.
It was a great compromise for the two-sport star, who was unable to close the gap between scholarship offers from premier football programs in the Midwest and mid-major basketball schools in the area.
Gates' strategy was squashed at the hands of Coach Saban, who refused to allow his prize recruit to get sidetracked by basketball. Gates signed a scholarship to play football, and football would be the end-all be-all.
At that point, it was too late for Gates to change his mind. He was already on campus for the fall semester, participating in football team activities. Before long, he was hit with another piece of unwelcome news: the coaches decided to redshirt him for his freshman season.
His frustration boiled over into the classroom, where Gates found himself overwhelmed by college-level courses. He says, “If you’re not playing sports and just going to school, that’s already a major adjustment as a freshman student-athlete. I found myself in an uncomfortable position, which led to me leaving [Michigan State].”
After failing in his attempt to advance his lifelong goal at Michigan State, Gates was back to square one in what would become a whirlwind tour of college appearances, including a semester at Eastern Michigan University and a year at the College of the Sequoias in California.
He says, “I had to make a conscious decision: either I’m going to be somebody or I’m going to be nobody. It was time to wake up.”
Then came a shot at redemption, an opportunity too good to pass up. A Michigan State assistant basketball coach accepted the head coaching position at Kent State University, a Mid-American Conference school in Ohio. The coach had stayed in contact with Gates over the years, and he just so happened to have an opening on his roster.
Gates accepted, and the rest is history. In his first season on the hardwood at Kent, Gates helped lead the Golden Flashes on a miracle run to the Elite Eight. His monster play in the paint helped knock off some of those top-flight programs with which he was once so enamored.
“The Elite Eight run got my face on TV,” says Gates. As a consequence, for the second time in his young career, the 6'4", 260-pound power forward was pursued by football scouts. Only this time, they represented NFL teams.
This time around, Gates capitalized on the opportunity to play football.
Stayed tuned for the final installment of this four-part video series on Antonio Gates’ unscripted path to greatness.
Episode 1: Forging His Own Path
Episode 2: Dual-Sport Star Divided
Photo: German Alegria