Coates' link to current Patriots TEs

Former Patriots tight end Ben Coates will be in Boston this weekend to be presented the Humanitarian Award at the Pop Warner All-American Scholarship Banquet. It's a trip he enjoys making.

"I don't get back to town often, but I'm looking forward to coming back," Coates said Friday in an interview with ESPNBoston.com.

Coates' ties to the region trace back to 1991 when the Patriots drafted him in the fifth round out of Livingstone College. He played in New England until 1999, putting together a career that included five Pro Bowl berths and earned him induction into the team's Hall of Fame in 2008.

It's no wonder that Coates' 9-year-old son, Christopher, has a particular rooting interest.

"He's a die-hard [Aaron] Hernandez and [Rob] Gronkowski fan," Coates relayed. "He's always been a Patriots fan and he just loves to see guys that play that position. He didn't get to see me play, but he sees Gronkowski, and how he had the number [87] I wore before."

Like others, the 44-year Coates has kept a close eye on how both Hernandez and Gronkowski have changed the way the game is played. It's different than the NFL in which he played.

"They're really athletic guys, bigger guys, and a lot faster than when I played, so they pose a lot of problems for different defenses," he said. "I just hope Gronkowski can get healthy and back on the field. ... It feels good to see the old number producing rather than being on the sideline."

Coates currently serves as the offensive coordinator at St. Augustine University in Raleigh, N.C., and describes his coaching style as one in which he's hard on players during the week, but things loosen up come game-day. He reflected on some of the coaches who made an indelible mark on him during his NFL career, a group that included Mike Pope, Dante Scarnecchia, Charlie Weis and Bill Parcells, among others.

Coates, who says he still keeps in touch with several former Patriots teammates -- a group including Sam Gash, Troy Brown, Bruce Armstrong, Todd Rucci, Drew Bledsoe and Max Lane, among others -- will have a direct message for the Pop Warner players that focuses on the importance of schoolwork and how football can help teach important discipline.

"It's an honor to be able to come back and speak to the kids," he said.

Hernandez, it turns out, will also be at the Pop Warner All American Scholarship Banquet, where he will be presented the Pop Warner Inspiration to Youth Award.