Thursday, April 21, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Abilene Christian WR Edmund Gates Could Be a Second Round Steal

If you don't know the name, Edmund Gates, he might be someone you might want to keep your eye on. Gates has a story unlike any incoming draftee most have heard about over the last several months.

Gates grew up with a rough childhood. His father is currently serving an 18-year prison sentence for murder. Not only did Gates overcome the obstacles of staying out of trouble, he became the first of his family to graduate college and could top it all by being selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. 

He was a basketball player with dreams of playing in the NBA after landing a scholarship to play at Tyler Junior College. However, those dreams seemed to have been dashed after Gates was asked to not return for his second season.

So, he was then recruited by Abilene Christian University where his cousin, Bernard Scott, now a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, was also a football player at ACU. Gates made a visit to the school with Scott where the suggestion was made to him to possibly try football. Only problem was, Gates had never played football before. He was a basketball player and a good one at that.

Enter ACU head football coach, Chris Thomsen. The first time he met with Gates, Thomsen didn't think football was the way to go for the young athlete, especially having never played the sport. But, the first time the head coach saw him on the field, his opinion instantly changed.

"First time I saw him you can see his soft, natural hands which playing basketball helped that," Thomsen told me. "But a day or two goes by and we started to see that burst of speed when he got the ball in his hands, how he explodes and takes off. We realized then how we might have something special to develop here."

When you talk to this young wide receiver from Abilene Christian, it's hard to not become a fan of the man he is and root for success in the NFL. When you talk to him about the upcoming draft you would never know there were any nerves running through him or any uncertainty in his future.

"It's a blessing first of all. I'm trying to control everything I can control and not worry about what I can't control. I'm ready to see what's going to happen. I've been on a lot of visits so I'm ready, my family is ready, and though I don't know what round I'll be drafted in, I'm ready to find out where I'm going."

The young wide receiver grew up a die hard Dallas Cowboy fan so there's no question he would love to play for the team he grew up rooting for.

"I had a visit with the Dallas Cowboys and it went real well but I had a lot of visits with a lot of other teams as well. I would like to be there and it would be nice to be a Dallas Cowboy because my whole family are Cowboy fans. If not, wherever I end up it'll be nice also."

Usually, a young wide receiver from a school a lot of people wouldn't know a thing about would make some wonder if he is really ready for the next level of his playing career. Gates hasn't faced the kind of competition like the bigger schools have faced. However, you could say the same thing about Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice.

Through his time at Abilene Christian, Gates continued to get better and went from a young athlete who had never played football to one of the best players on his team and a leader among the younger players by the time his days at ACU were over.

"The first couple of years [Gates] had Bernard Scott and Johnny Knox, two guys who were drafted in to the NFL," Coach Thomsen told me. "His development has been fun to watch but then to watch him graduate and get his degree, the first in his family to do so, and then watch him develop as a man. What I was most proud of is watching him raise the level of his teammates. All the notoriety tends to make players drift away from their teammates, he just kept coming closer and closer and raising their level of play."

While Thomsen had great players on his 2010 squad he credits Gates as one player who was one of the biggest leaders and one of the biggest reasons their team finished with an 11-0 regular season for the first time in school history.

During Gates' pro day he had 22 teams there to watch him perform. The most amazing stat of the day was his 40 yard time. The young wide receiver ran an amazing 4.3 40-yard dash and did so with a strained groin. During a radio interview both Thomsen and Gates say he could have been even faster than that.

No one knows where Gates is going to be drafted or which team is the most interested in bringing him on board, but if you ask Coach Thomsen where he'd like to see his young wide receiver land, he says the Baltimore Ravens would be his choice.

"I want to see him go to a team who has a need for a guy like him and obviously they won't draft him if they don't. Baltimore would be unique because Wilbert Montgomery is the running back coach [for the Ravens] and is one of the greatest players in ACU history. He would help Gates make the transition into the NFL."

The Ravens were one of the 22 teams who were at Gates' pro day and Thomsen told me he has had conversations with Montgomery and the two talked about Gates during the Senior Bowl.

Wherever this young wide receiver is drafted there is no question in his mind that he is ready for whatever comes his way. But, when it comes to the potential lockout and possibility of not being able to play in 2011, Gates told me it's up to him to stay in shape and stay ready.

"Right now I really do hope there is a season but if not I don't know what's going to happen. I'm going to continue to stay in shape, continue to work out, and continue to run routes. If I continue to do those things I'll be ready for whenever they call my name."

From those I talked to about this young man, the consensus is he will probably be a high second round to early third round pick and there are no shortages of teams who will be interested when the time comes. While there has not been one team who has made their interest more known than another, don't think for a second Gates won't be hoping for a call from Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys.

However, if another team calls his name, he'll be ready to step up and play whenever he's asked. He has had a great coach in college get him ready for this day and a cousin in Bengals' running back Bernard Scott get him mentally prepared for what the NFL holds for him.

Be watching when draft day comes around and remember the name, Edmund Gates. You might be seeing it a lot more and a lot sooner than you think.

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