An already intriguing quarterback competition at Arizona added another layer, with the Wildcats welcoming aboard former MLB first-round draftee, Donovan Tate.
A coincidental twist to Tate joining Arizona’s football program as a walk-on after he spent seven years in the San Diego Padres organization? The Pads have a track record for acquiring prospects *after* they’ve played college football, having drafted former Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens in 2012, and Johnny Manziel two years later.
San Diego drafted Tate third overall in the 2009 MLB draft, two picks after the Washington Nationals chose Stephen Strasburg No. 1, and 22 spots before the Angels picked up some guy named Mike Trout. Trout’s done OK for himself.
Not every draftee can become a legend, like Mike Trout. Most fail to carve out lengthy Major League careers. Donovan Tate never made it to the Bigs, a much more common reality for baseball prospects. He’s in the unique position of having an opportunity at a sports mulligan, getting an opportunity to pursue the opportunity University of North Carolina offered him as a quarterback recruit eight years ago.
Tate originally pledged to be a Tar Heel, but the allure of MLB — and a $6.25 million signing bonus — proved too powerful. He had plenty of suitors as a quarterback prospect, including from the University of Michigan — then coached by one Rich Rodriguez.
Indeed, Rodriguez’s interest in Tate is no passing fancy. That long-held interest adds intrigue to a quarterback competition that, at spring’s conclusion, seemed close to settled.
Returning starter Brandon Dawkins concluded practices “the front-runner,” according to Rodriguez, though Khalil Tate factored into the equation ahead of summer.
“He’s got the most experience, and has performed pretty well,” Rodriguez said of Dawkins. “But it’s going to be a competition all the way up until the week of the first game, unless somebody separates [himself].”
Rodriguez added there were seven players in the competition — Tate’s addition makes eight. That’s a lot of bodies, too many for one depth chart. But it seems unlikely a recruit once ranked No. 110 in the nation would land somewhere without a clear opportunity to make a difference.
No matter if he starts or not, I tip my hat to Tate on one point: He’s primed for the most ideal college experience.
A good friend (and intramural basketball teammate!) from my UA days met up for some drinks during Final Four weekend. Conversation turned to college, as it often does among college pals. We agreed that, as great as those days were, they’d be better with two key differences.
One is more money. Suffice it to say, a former MLB prospect who signed a substantial bonus will not have to eat Ramen or consider Domino’s a luxury.
Two: Coming to campus with the life experiences gained after graduation would make for a much more fun experience.
Tate heads to my alma mater under much different circumstances than I began my college tenure. I arrived with a pittance saved from my summer camp-counseling job, wrecked my 1992 Mazda 626 within weeks of the semester, and obviously lacked the social stature of a college quarterback.
Playing quarterback on its own cements an undergrad among campus elite. There’s a reason that in pop culture, the quarterback is so often associated with the pinnacle of social status. The University of Arizona has a unique connection to this aura, having hosted the filming of quintessential 1980s college comedy, Revenge of the Nerds.
No other fictional character better captures the social standing of the college quarterback than Stan Gable. Bonus points in this instance for Donovan Tate being the same age now that actor Ted McGinley was when he portrayed the Alpha Beta jock.
Speaking of age, Tate’s approaching the perfect time in his life to be on a college campus. I enjoyed my time as an undergrad, but it wasn’t until my late 20s, after having spent some time in the working world, I really came to appreciate the freedom and carelessness of my college days.
Granted playing Minor League Baseball is a much different working reality than copy-editing and coding web pages, but it’s still work. Long bus rides between small-market cities would certainly have given me a greater appreciation for strolling through campus in flip-flops, surrounded by people around my age.
To that end, Donovan Tate isn’t so old at 26, turning 27 in September, as to scream O-L-D. This isn’t Scott Bakula as Paul Blake in Necessary Roughness.
Should his transition go smoothly, I’m curious if we’ll see others follow suit. Former Kansas City Royals first-round pick Bubba Starling is a prime candidate: Starling was a prized recruit of Bo Pelini’s Nebraska staff before opting for professional baseball.
It’s an unenviable option, to be sure.