There is no second-guessing for Kenneth Tate, no reason to dwell on the great “what if?” of the safety-turned-linebacker’s career at Maryland.
In the midst of a coaching change, in the wake of a riveting 2010 season when he emerged as one of the ACC’s most disruptive defensive players, Tate could have bolted for the NFL. No one would have blamed him.
He stayed to fulfill a promise to his mother and finish work on a degree he is set to earn this semester. As part of the bargain, he got two senior seasons, just as many knee injuries and not nearly enough victories for his (or any of his teammates’) liking.
If there are regrets as Tate approaches his last game at Byrd Stadium on Saturday when the Terps (4-6, 2-4 ACC) play host to No. 10 Florida State (9-1, 6-1), he isn’t divulging them.
“I’m perfectly fine,” Tate said this week. “We go through things in life for a reason, and maybe it wasn’t my time to go. Maybe I had some lessons I needed to learn which, at the next level, can happen. Change of coaches, injuries, all things that come in as a factor when you’re talking about your job. I’m not happy with how the two seasons have gone, but the experience of it, yes, I’m very pleased with.”
Surely, there will be several junctures to look back upon over the last two years after his 100-tackle season in 2010. He played in four games at linebacker (a new position for him) last season before a knee injury shelved him for the rest of the year. He applied for a hardship waiver and received a fifth season.
Yet in August he injured his other knee, an ailment that ultimately cost him three games. Tate has 30 tackles (3.5 for loss) and one sack since his return, but he’s also not as active as he once was.
“I have so much respect for Kenny and for him to go through what he did and now come back, just his heart and desire to want to play the game is enormous,” coach Randy Edsall said. “Watching him go out there and prepare during the week, it’s very, very important to him. I think what’s doing is he’s playing OK, and I think he’s still a little bit maybe not at 100 percent, but he’s playing well and making plays for us.”
He is coming off perhaps the best game of his season, a six-tackle effort at Clemson that also included 1.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
Tate’s effectiveness this year is as much a credit to his vast knowledge as his athleticism. Linebacker Alex Twine, who has roomed with Tate on the road this season, marvels at how many tidbits his older teammate can pick up and then impart. Likewise, he appreciates how much Tate values the opportunity to close out his college career on the field.
“Last year, you could see it when he got hurt,” Twine said. “You could see how upset he was and how disappointed he was, and we were all disappointed. Him being able to come out and play every game and play as well as he’s played, it means a lot to him.”
Externally, it’s easy to wonder about an alternative storyline. Tate told reporters last year he received a second- or third-round grade from the NFL’s draft advisory board after the 2010 season.
Yet even then, when teammate A.J. Francis directly asked him a few days after Maryland’s Military Bowl victory, Tate intended to remain a Terp.
“He said ‘I just don’t want to. I want to finish up my degree, and I told my mom I would do that and that’s what I want to do,’” Francis said. “I was like ‘All right. If I was you ‘ But that’s the kind of guy he is. He has priorities he puts in front of football and he takes care of them. I’m proud to call him my friend.”
Few of Maryland’s seniors will depart after a career with so many twists. Tate committed to Maryland as a wide receiver, moved to defense the day he stepped on campus, played in four different defenses, lost a season’s worth of games (13) to injury and was an all-conference pick as a junior.