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Dearborn Fordson four-star Antonio Gates Jr. a rising force and Michigan State takes notice

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Antonio Gates was one of the premier athletes during his high school days at Detroit Central in the late 1990s, finishing runnerup to Dane Fife of Clarkston for Mr. Basketball while leading his team to the Class A state championship in 1998. Gates also was a star on the football field.

Though Gates is well known for his NFL career as a tight end, he never played a down of college football. Basketball was his game in college, and he led Kent State to a MAC championship and to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in 2002.

Antonio Gates Jr. works out at Dearborn Fordson on Wednesday morning.

Now Gates’ son, Antonio Gates Jr., is putting himself on the radar, as well, as he heads into his junior year at Dearborn Fordson. That’s what happens when you grab 45 passes for 700 yards and seven TDs like Gates did as a sophomore. He had five receptions for 125 yards in a close loss to KLAA champion Belleville.

“My freshman year I was getting used to the varsity speed, because coming from middle school it was nowhere near the same, so I had to get used to the speed, and then playing with bigger, faster and stronger guys,” Gates told The Detroit News.

“My sophomore year it was just like everything slowed down. It was easier for me to understand and my body just took off. I’m still getting bigger, faster and stronger and everything is getting easier. It’s not getting easier without hard work though.”

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Gates, who is now 6-1 and 176 pounds with 4.55 speed, has already received offers from multiple Power Five teams, including Michigan State, Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia and Nebraska.

“I’ve been talking to Coach Levy a lot about Michigan State and how I would fit in,” said Gates of new MSU player personnel director Sean Levy.

Gates’ father also received an offer from MSU, by Nick Saban, and signed with the Spartans before transferring to Eastern Michigan and then to Kent State.

“He has some major offers out there,” said Fordson coach Walker Zaban of Gates. “Not having seen him for a few months, not being able to get together – sure we had Zoom meetings and stuff like that – but getting out there right now (conditioning) and watching him run a little bit you can tell he’s done work during that time off. Just from the speed and agility aspect, he’s improved tremendously.

“His freshman year he kind of learned the ropes, although he had some very good moments, made some good catches for us. He was more of a factor the last three or four games and then in the playoffs.

“Then, as a sophomore he was our No. 1 receiver and he was going up against our opponent’s No. 1 corner for the most part. We also had some help where we didn’t need to target him all the time either, so from his freshman year to his sophomore year he became the No. 1 guy, especially on the outside.”

Antonio Gates Jr.: "I'm still getting bigger, faster and stronger and everything is getting easier."

Gates has lofty goals – he wants to be regarded as the top receiver in the state, and also among the top 10 or 15 nationally. He is ranked a four-star prospect by 247Sports, the No. 4 player in the state for the 2022 class and No. 20 nationally.

Gates is making sure he is in supreme condition for his junior year.

“I’ve been working out at the boxing gym a lot, so I’ve lost some weight, we sweat a lot, but I’m a lot more ripped, went down from 182 to 176,” said Gates of his recent training.

Gates has also improved in his film study.

“Film helps you in the game so much because if you don’t know where you’re at during the game then there’s only so much you can do,” Gates said. “There might be a big play where the sticks are nine yards and if you run seven and you don’t get the first down you have to punt.”

More: The Detroit News picks Michigan State’s best football players for the past 25 years

Playing defense has also helped Gates gain a greater understanding of the game.

“I’m playing defense too – hybrid corner and safety – so now I know what you’re thinking on offense when I’m on defense, so there’s no way to get around me now.”

Gates’ father was consistently at Fordson’s games last season with his 16-year NFL career in the rear view mirror. Gates, who turned 40 last month, officially announced his retirement in January after 116 TD receptions, and NFL record for tight ends.

Said Gates: “My dad helps me a lot with football. He teaches me so much, like certain things about taking care of your body and eating right.

“I think he was at every game my sophomore year. It was kind of hard because I can’t mess up in front of my dad. But really he’s not the type of dad to be on me like that. He just says, ‘Do your best son.’ But Uncle Moe (Gates’ younger brother) is the guy who really pushes me.”

Gates has a ways to go to match the football accomplishments of his father, but Gates already has the upper hand on at least one thing.

“My Dad complains about me having certain players playing Madden, but my dad is all over the place when it comes to playing Madden,” he said. “I’m better than he is at Madden, there’s no debate.”