UGA has its own ‘Blind Side’ story

semerson@macon.comAugust 21, 2012 

ATHENS -- Kenarious Gates has had an improbable path to becoming the left tackle for the Georgia football team, the spot made famous by the book and movie “The Blind Side.”

And for Gates, it all started with … well, the book and movie “The Blind Side.”

It was February of 2010, a few weeks after Gates was a late addition to Georgia’s recruiting class. His high school coach, Jeremy Williams, was battling ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and the TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came to Greenville to give Williams and his family a new home.

Along for the ride, touched by Williams’ story, was Michael Oher, the subject of “The Blind Side.” Oher’s adopted mother and brother also came, and Gates was there to meet them.

“It was a great opportunity,” Gates said. “From that day, it just motivated me to keep working hard. I look up to him.”

These days, Gates is the player Georgia is looking to in order to perform perhaps the most critical role on its team as it chases an SEC championship.

The offensive line is the team’s biggest concern, having lost three starters to the NFL. One of them was left tackle Cordy Glenn, who is set to start at that spot for the Buffalo Bills this year.

Gates was a somewhat surprising choice to replace Glenn and to be entrusted with stopping an edge rusher from nailing an unsuspecting quarterback in Aaron Murray. Gates started most of last year at guard, which is more of a run-blocking position. The team also had on the way John Theus, an elite offensive tackle recruit.

But at the end of last season, Georgia coaches told Gates to get ready to be the new left tackle.

“He’s played in enough games where we felt he was just the best candidate, physically, for the job,” head coach Mark Richt said. “Could it have been Theus over there, maybe. But I think we’ve got (Theus) in the right place (at right tackle) right now.”

Gates, meanwhile, prepared in earnest for the new role. He watched film of Oher and Glenn, trying to emulate their technique.

During summer workouts, he also did some work with edge rushers like Jarvis Jones, T.J. Stripling and Cornelius Washington -- to test himself.

“We just worked to get the feeling of the game,” Gates said. “They helped me, changing from left guard to left tackle is a different speed.”

Gates’ size (6-foot-5, 328 pounds) makes him a good fit for the left tackle spot. Only real games this year will show whether he has the agility, strength and skill to do it, but spring practice convinced the coaches to give Gates the job.

“If a Jarvis Jones comes full-speed off the edge, there’s some guys that can’t even get out of their stance and get their hands on him,” Richt said. “So you have to be athletic enough to do that.”

When he was in high school, it took awhile for the Georgia coaches to be convinced Gates should get a scholarship at all. He was a three-star recruit, and he committed to Kentucky.

Two days before signing day, the Bulldogs had a spot open up when receiver Da’Rick Rogers reneged on his commitment and headed to Tennessee. Georgia asked Gates if he wanted to stay in-state, and he happily agreed.

Gates said it has occurred to him that he has come pretty far since he was a final-minute scholarship offer.

“I think about it every night,” Gates said. “I think about where I came from, how far I came.”

And it all goes back to “The Blind Side.”

“That movie inspired me,” Gates said. “He kind of inspired me to work hard. I just watched how he played: He played really hard, and he’s a tough guy. And I feel like if I just follow his lead and watch his technique, I’ll become a better player, as well.”

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