Chargers: Antonio Gates should be remembered for unlikely road to NFL, opening doors

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 08: Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers makes a catch as he is tackled from behind by K.J. Wright #50 of the Seattle Seahawks at Qualcomm Stadium on August 8, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 08: Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers makes a catch as he is tackled from behind by K.J. Wright #50 of the Seattle Seahawks at Qualcomm Stadium on August 8, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Though it’s been over a year since we’ve seen Antonio Gates in full pads and playing football, we can now officially look back and reminisce on a great career.

Athletic, big-bodied young men who may have a background as basketball players can always turn into an NFL prospect and for that, they have Antonio Gates to thank. What an unlikely yet amazing career. Here, we look back on the illustrious run that Gates had.

Many thought Gates was done following the 2017 season, but an early-season injury to Hunter Henry which ended his season forced the Chargers to pick up the phone and call old reliable.

Gates gave the team all he could in relief of the young Henry, but his aging body was clearly wearing down. He was still part of a team that made a run to the divisional playoffs and though he wasn’t under contract going into 2019, many fans hoped the team would bring him back for what they thought would be a run to the Super Bowl this season.

That run never happened (never came close) and to the surprise and dismay of fans, Gates was not part of the team’s plans this season. On Tuesday, he officially retired from the NFL.

He does so with some of the best numbers ever posted by a tight end — 955 receptions, 11,481 yards and 116 touchdowns. He caught more touchdowns than any tight end in NFL history.

That includes every tight end named to the NFL’s All-Time team as part of the 100th anniversary of the league.

Former Chargers tight end Kellen WInslow did make that team. No disrespect to Winslow — he was a fantastic tight end, but Gates is the best tight end in Chargers history and it’s by a considerable margin. He should have been on that team.

How many players can you say redefined how a position is played in any sport?

Because that’s Antonio Gates’ legacy.

There are those who came before, and then tight ends who came after who not only had careers, but dominated, all because of 85.

See ya in Canton soon, Gatesy.

— Ricky Henne (@RickyHenne) January 14, 2020

That won’t bother Gates. The always humble, always respectful tight end will be more than happy with his career and the accolades that came with it. And he should be. It easily could have never happened.

Sometimes lost in just how good Gates was is the path he took to get to the NFL and a heightened level of success.

Gates did play high school football. He then enrolled at Michigan State hoping to be a two-sport star playing both football and basketball. At the time, Nick Saban was the head coach of the Spartans’ football team. He wanted Gates to focus solely on football.

Because of that, Gates decided to transfer to Eastern Michigan University to play basketball before going to the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. From there, he transferred to Kent State University.

As a junior at the school, Gates helped the Golden Flashes reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament as a 10 seed.

Once his playing career ended there, most thought his days as an athlete might be over when he was told that he wouldn’t be able to land in the NBA as a 6-foot-4 power forward. Despite never playing a down in college football, Gates took his chances and arranged some workouts for NFL teams.

Still, those are long odds.

Several teams were reportedly interested in seeing what Gates had to offer and the Chargers were the first team to get the chance to see him. The team didn’t allow him to leave its complex without a contract, believing a diamond in the rough had just been discovered.

The Chargers were right.

Gates used his skills as a basketball player to literally reinvent the tight end position. Though Tony Gonzalez, widely considered the best tight end in NFL history, also had a basketball background, it was Gates who would more often use basketball moves such as “posting up” on defenders to shield them from the ball.

Back in those days, a power forward becoming a tight end was unheard of. Now, teams almost seek those kinds of guys out. Gates deserves a massive amount of credit for that.

Must Read. 5 best games of Antonio Gates' career

Somewhere, there is a young kid who is going to college that for one reason or another, might not be able to play both basketball and football or, perhaps doesn’t have good prospects as a professional basketball player. Maybe, just maybe, he has just enough of a basketball background and a great athletic skill set to become an NFL tight end.

And somewhere, there is a sculptor who will someday sit in from