NOTE: This story ran the night before Signing Day in 2010.
One phone call from the Georgia coaching staff changed Gates' collegiate destination, and gave his coach, Jeremy Williams something to smile about.
Gates' dream will be realized when he signs with Georgia on National Signing Day, with the future wide-open for the Greenville offensive lineman.
Williams, doesn’t think about the future. He can’t. Thinking would only waste time. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in June of 2008 and, “takes one day at time.”
But through Gates accomplishment of earning a Georgia scholarship, Williams is just as happy. He’ll talk about his fatal disease, but would much rather see Gates grab all the attention.
Williams coached the 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle four years at Greenville High School, becoming a “father figure” off the field according to Gates. The coach tripled in his role, also as an inspiration through his perseverance. Despite the disease, which has affected his speech and mobility, and agonizing time spent taking medication, Williams offers no excuses. He’s still eager to coach and talk football. Especially Kenarious Gates.
“Our guys, we have such a great relationship that we don’t worry about it,” Williams said. “We don’t think about it. Our motto all year was, ‘Do what we do.’ I can’t do something. We just do what we do. We’re not going to worry about it. We’re not going to cry about. We just do what we do.”
Williams and Gates (left) share a moment the night before Signing Day
Gates’ recruitment picked up his junior year. His size and surprisingly agile footwork garnered interest from schools across the SEC, including Florida, Auburn and Alabama. Notre Dame and California, among other schools nationally, sent him mail. He was offered by Kentucky, North Carolina State and Vanderbilt. But he wanted an offer from Georgia. His “dream” was to become a Bulldog.
“We’ve been in discussion for a long time... a real-long time” Gates said about the Georgia coaches and their recruiting. “Since I was little, I always watched Georgia on television. It’s at home, and I wanted to play at home.”
But Georgia didn’t have enough scholarships available. Gates chose to commit to Kentucky in December, but the decision was more than settling for another school. Gates really looked forward to going to Lexington.
“I mean, I liked the program they had,” he said. “When they switched coaches, to coach [Joker] Phillips, he was my recruiting coach anyway.”
According to Gates and Williams, Georgia had a player de-commit on Monday night, opening up a spot for Gates. The Georgia coaching staff called Williams to let him know about the vacancy.
“We’ve been extremely excited on both ends,” he said. “We got a call from Georgia [Monday] night, and I told them I was staying out of it and to let me call [Gates], and I’d call back. So, as a coach, you’ve got to let the kids decide where they want to go.”
But the decision was a no-brainer for Gates. He was going to Georgia.
“It was hard for me to change, but I got an opportunity to play for my home state school, and my dream school,” he said. “I had to stay in the state.”
Williams added: “With Georgia, that was the place he’d always dreamed of going. That was why it was so easy to say yes. Even though he was committed to Kentucky - and he was more than happy to go to Kentucky - when you have the chance to go somewhere that you’ve always dreamed of going, you can’t turn that down. As a coach, that’s what we coach for.”
Gates says he and Bulldogs’ line coach Stacey Searels have a great relationship, always, “laughing, joking and talking.” Searels told him he’d be a tackle. And as for early playing time, Gates and Williams both know what to expect.
“With linemen it’s a little bit different,” Williams. “If you have linemen that come in and play right way you really haven’t done your job in recruiting. So, with him, wherever he’s going to go, he’s been expecting to redshirt, get bigger, faster, stronger, and then be ready to go.”
The relationship Gates and Williams have developed was evident before Greenville’s basketball game at Brookstone Tuesday night. Williams made Gates laugh with ease while both posed for pictures.
“Coach, he’s just a great person,” Gates said. “He is like a father figure to me. He is a great coach and a role model. I really look up to him.”
Williams says Georgia is getting a high character kid in Gates, who has good grades and is active and interested in the Greenville community.
Gates’ lived up to his coach’s high praise in his interaction with Williams’ six-year-old son Jacob, who is confined to a wheel chair with spina bifida. Before the basketball game, Jacob saw Gates approaching, yelled his name out and told the future Bulldog something that brought a smile. High-fives were exchanged, and Gates joked back.
“I really love Jacob,” Gates said. “He’s going to be like his dad. He loves blowing that whistle. He’s just like his dad - a coach.”
And Jacob, just like his dad, returns the love for Gates, who on Wednesday will sign the Letter-of-Intent of his dreams.