By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Professional athletes love to tell you how hard they worked to get to where they are. Quite often however, they leave out the fact that they got to where they are because all of that hard work was supplemented by a winning ticket in the genetic lottery.
Now don’t get me wrong. Professional athletes, by in large, do put in ridiculous amounts of work to get to the where they are. At some point, no matter how talented the athlete, he or she reaches a level where being bigger, faster and stronger is not enough.
Which brings us to Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. Coming into his third season in the NFL, the former second-round pick needs to step up to the plate. This is his season to show he can be the playmaker the Seahawks were hoping to get when they drafted him in 2010. And if Tate does indeed enjoy a breakout year, it will be because he is self-aware enough to realize that his work ethic hasn’t always matched his athletic ability.
“Going back a little bit, I’ve always been the guy, I’ve always been the guy you’re throwing the ball to,” he said. “I never had to work for my position; it was always given to me. I was always more athletic.
“So for the first time ever, I felt like I had to work, it wasn’t given to me, and I didn’t respond correctly my rookie year,” Tate said. “I was like, ‘You know, if I’m not starting, then whatever.’ But once I learned to prepare like I was the starter regardless of if I’m the third string or the sixth string, it started to come.”
As a standout athlete in high school, Tate was impressive enough to earn a scholarship offer from Notre Dame and be drafted by major league basball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. He played baseball and football at Notre Dame, and despite being undersized by receiver standards, Tate’s freakish athleticism helped him become an All-American and win the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the top receiver in college football.
Yet even for an athlete of Tate’s caliber, the wakeup call eventually came. The second-round pick wowed everyone as a rookie in Seahawks training camp, but that never translated to success once the regular season began.
When he couldn’t beat out undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin at slot receiver last year, a lot of people wondered out loud if Tate even had a place on the team.
Tate was probably never really danger of being cut — and if he was he responded emphatically with a big performance in Seattle’s final preseason game — but just the fact that the question was even being asked showed just how far he had fallen from that first training camp when he looked like a star in the making.
Tate had a mostly quiet 2011 season as well, but when injuries to Mike Williams and Sidney Rice forced him into the starting lineup, Tate responded well, catching 19 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown while starting the final five games. What led to that late-season success, and what the Seahawks hope will lead to a big 2012 season, was Tate coming to the realization that his considerable athleticism was not enough to get by at the NFL level.
“He had to understand that in pro football, where the talent level is so high and that everybody’s good, the difference is the guys that can do things right and execute,” said receivers coach Kippy Brown. “… He knows that he can’t just go out and make a play because he’s Golden Tate. You get in that book and you get in that drill work and you learn to be precise so the quarterback can trust you, and then you become a player.”
And in what seems to be a make-or-break third season for Tate, he has been very impressive early in training camp. The Seahawks have a vacancy in the starting lineup at the receiver spot opposite Rice, and right now Tate would have to be considered the front-runner to win the job. Just as he did two years ago, Tate has wowed training camp crowds with his spectacular catches, but he’s also doing the little things well. If he can keep this up, if he can live up to his tantalizing potential, Tate might just change his reputation from being “that guy who stole some maple bars” to a bona fide NFL starter.
Of course we can’t get too excited over a couple of impressive days practice; there is still a long, long ways to go. But unlike the promise he showed in 2010, this training camp success is backed up by some solid play to end last season, as well as a much more self-aware and mature approach to the game.
“He’s grown a lot as a player,” said Rice. “He used to make big plays, jump up and throw the ball in the air and jump around, things like that. But I see him gaining a lot more professionalism. He’s doing much better. He’s making plays, jogging back into the huddle and getting ready to go back out and do the same thing again. It’s great to see that.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.