From Junipero Serra standout to Heisman Hopeful, Khalil Tate at Pac-12 media day
In less than a year, University of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate went from a backup to a chance at the Heisman Trophy . A late night game against Colorado propelled Tate from a duel-threat quarterback with talents that were still untapped to an offensive threat that tore up Pac-12 defenses.
What makes the 19-year-old superstar the face of Arizona football very well could be his ability to outrun even the top safeties in the Pac-12 or to launch a deep ball down field. However, his roots in Inglewood, California and his time at Junipero Serra High School could have prepared Tate the most for his collegiate career.
Before arriving on campus at Arizona, Tate was a member of the Serra football team where he picked apart defenses in the CIF Southern Section. The 6-foot-2 quarterback played on the varsity team from his sophomore to senior year, totaling 43 touchdowns and 4,000 total yards in his senior season alone. Who got him prepared for that leap? Tate credits his grandmother for teaching him how to throw a football and being his inspiration.
“We used to go over to her house and play catch with her all the time. She survived breast cancer twice so I think that’s something that really sticks with me” Tate said at Pac-12 football media day Wednesday.
Tate went from playing catch at her house to playing against some of the top high school athletes in America. With future college and pro athletes sprinkled throughout the Southern Section, Tate was in for a handful.
“When I was in high school I didn’t realize I was going to school with Adoree’ Jackson, Rasheem Green, or John Houston it was kind of just something that was kind of normal….it was kind of like that’s just my friend,” Tate said.
The level of play during Tate’s high school career was so high that not even he realized that he was playing against future stars. Despite the tough competition, Tate passed with flying colors. For him it was just a matter of time before he reached greatness.
“A lot of people from my high school knew what I was capable of– I knew what I was capable of– I just knew that I had to keep getting more mature and really just keep working on my craft.”
Although Tate excelled at football, he had no player that he looked up to or modeled his game after: “I mean I’ve never really watched any other quarterbacks, I was never that kid that said I want to be him or I want to be him.” However, Tate did admit to having a Fathead of Donovan McNabb in his room.
While Tate kept to his game and continued to develop in high school, players around the Southern Section began to take notice. Former Upland High School linebacker and current UCLA linebacker Josh Woods saw Tate’s potential from the start.
“I’ve know Khalil to be a duel-threat, he can use his legs, can throw it really well. He’ll put you to sleep with his legs and then throw a touchdown,” Woods said. Woods talked about Tate at the collegiate level as well, noting that Tate’s speed and conditioning increased substantially in a year’s time.
“He’s just a weapon, it’s tough game planning for him you never know what you are going to get,” Woods said.
Tate graduated from J Serra in December of 2015 allowing him to enroll early at the University of Arizona. In his first year as a Wildcat, Tate served as a backup QB to Brandon Dawkins and it looked as if Tate’s abilities at the collegiate level would remain a mystery. Until October 7, 2017 against Colorado.
That night, Dawkins exited the game with an injury, leaving Tate an opportunity to save the struggling Wildcats. Tate came off the bench and had himself a career night to say the least, totaling five touchdowns. Tate rushed for 327 yards, which broke the FBS record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. Keep in mind, Tate was only 18-years-old at the time.
“That particular game I was watching closely so when he got hurt it was kind of surreal cause I looked at the sideline and everybody was looking at me like you’re going in,” Tate said.
That night not only changed Arizona football, but Tate’s life as an athlete and a star. Tate would go on to win four consecutive Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, hurling his name into the Heisman race.
Tate knew he was capable of being an elite athlete, but wasn’t quite ready for the recognition and stardom that comes with that.
“It’s shocking just because my whole life I’ve been that person that’s just kind of in the back, that’s not getting that type of limelight,” Tate added. “I’ve never been the type to like attention like that, I am real kind of shy. They kind of have to do it because I am the quarterback now so that’s something I’m getting used to.”
Tate received recognition from athletes outside of football, among those who took notice to the native Californian was LeBron James. James gave Tate a shoutout on social media following his breakout game against Colorado.
“It was surprising, you know it’s LeBron James in your comments,” Tate said.
To add to the roller coaster year Tate was having, Arizona parted ways with then head coach Rich Rodriguez. As the face of the program and a leader in the locker room, Tate set out to take control of the moment saying: “whenever you are a quarterback, you are the leader of the team.”
At the Pac-12 media day, Tate explained he mutually met with the university in order to find the best match for the program. Over the last few days, reports of a tweet sent out by Tate that showed his disapproval of the triple option shifted the focus to Arizona’s new head coach Kevin Sumlin.
When asked if those reports painted an accurate description of what happened, Tate said that wasn’t the case: “Nah, it did but it sounds kind of funny, sounds kind of fishy. Sounds like I made the decision.”
Despite the records Tate set during his small sample size as Arizona’s starting QB, he feels he has much more to accomplish.
“I like to tell people I just got my foot in the door. so I haven’t done anything super special, you know a lot of people still have doubts about me so I have a lot more to prove.”
Tate heads into his third year at Arizona with a chance to start an entire season. A full season as the starting QB could put Khalil back into the Heisman race. Only time will tell what the California kid will accomplish in years to come.
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