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October 30, 2008

Tate states his case

Golden Tate shows a little leg.

When the sophomore lines up for punt return practice drills he makes sure to flash a few running back skills while Mike Haywood watches. Apparently Notre Dame's offensive coordinator likes what he sees considering Tate ran two reverses against Washington, one for a 21-yard touchdown.

"I'll show him my jab step," Tate said. "Coming into recruiting, I wanted to be the Reggie Bush kind of guy that could catch and have the ball handed off. It looks like each year they're balancing it out. It's working out."

And creating another dimension to Tate's stardom. He's already grown from one route wonder to an all-purpose threat. The next step is to become a bona fide two-sport star. Tate is penciled in as Notre Dame's starting leftfielder and hopes to replicate his fall successes in the spring.

Maybe Tate will attempt to play every position on the diamond because it's hard to imagine him proving this versatile in his secondary sport.

Tate's 45 touches this season have averaged 17.6 yards. His 31 catches for 565 yards pace the Irish, although Michael Floyd matches the sophomore's reception total. It's easy to imagine Tate busting a kickoff and/or punt return for a touchdown by season's end. It's no wonder he's memorized Raghib "Rocket" Ismail moves by watching YouTube clips.

"Golden is a heck of a player," said running back James Aldridge. "He'll get the ball in his hands. (The coaches) will find a way to get the ball in his hands."

Charlie Weis is working on it, thanks for asking. It seems everyone's got an idea how to increase Tate's touches, although most overlook the fact it would take away from Armando Allen, Floyd and Aldridge, etc.

Still, Weis has racked his brain for ways to create more opportunities for Tate. That includes an occasional move to running back where Tate ran 140 times for 1,413 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Pope John Paul II in Hendersonville, Tenn.

"Could I get him in there and run toss sweeps with him? You betcha I could," Weis said. "But I like getting Jonas Gray some reps there, and I like to get Robert Hughes a few more reps there. I've already got four running backs I'm trying to get reps to."

The Irish projected Tate at running back out of high school, at least until he got sucked into watching the Irish wide outs during Sugar Bowl preparations. Tate knew Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight would be gone after that season. By the time he found out Darius Walker was leaving too, Tate's mind was made up for receiver.

"I knew I could catch, I didn't know being a receiver had all these fundamentals and all the things that go with it," Tate laughed, thoughts of his freshman limitations undoubtedly running fade routes through his head.

Not that Tate's mastered receiver, but he believes he's shown enough to see his role expand. The Irish have been working on that process all season, with Tate now the team's primary kickoff and punt returner. The extra work doesn't seem to burden a sophomore who admitted to mental overload last season.

Since then Tate has learned to run routes properly and has grasped the necessity of effort on every play.

"In high school I always wanted the ball," Tate said. "That was one of the problems I had, when I didn't get the ball I kind of took the play off. Last year it kind of rubbed off. When I didn't get the ball I kind of took the play off."

Not any more, particularly with so many options coming his way.

"Golden is a playmaker," said receiver David Grimes. "I'm up for him having the ball in his hands."

It's hard to believe Tate's multi-dimensional skills haven't convinced him to go football full-time. He plans to play baseball again this spring and said he's not sure which sport he'll pursue after Notre Dame.

"I honestly do not know," Tate said. "If I had to play right now, I'd pick football just because I'm in season and I'm loving it. Once baseball comes around I'll be all-in for baseball, I want to play baseball, let's go to MLB, let's go to World Series and all that stuff. If you catch me next spring I might be preaching baseball."

For now, football holds Tate's full focus. That doesn't mean he's settled on one position.



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