Is this kid for real?
Donavan Tate is a supremely gifted athlete, a two-sport All-American whose future couldn't be brighter. He's humble, polite and quick to praise his mom. He's good-looking, well-liked and studies hard. He's a quiet leader, a dedicated teammate and the hardest worker you'll ever meet.
And yet, the Cartersville (Ga.) senior never even seems to break a sweat. Mr. Cool, that one.
Downright Tom Brady-esque.
"Just meeting him you think that he's something special," Cartersville baseball coach Stuart Chester says. "It's almost like being around a professional
athlete or a movie star or something like that."
All this in the form of a 6-foot-3, 205-pound high schooler who has pledged to play both football and baseball at North Carolina next year but will surely need to reconsider that commitment when he's selected in June's MLB Draft -- quite possibly early in the first round.
That's a conversation for another day. There's just too much that can change between now and then, too much to consider. Why sweat it?
"I'm not really worried about it," says Tate, who is rated the nation's No. 89 football recruit in the ESPNU 150 and is widely considered one of the top three prep baseball prospects in the Class of 2009. "I'm not thinking about it at all right now."
Tate is extremely excited about the prospect of going to Chapel Hill and wants to focus on
enjoying his last year of high school. Thanks to a last-minute decision, he's doing just that.
After playing for the Junior National Team and in both major All-American baseball games over the summer, Tate was tired of traveling -- he went everywhere from Arizona to Canada with Team USA -- and playing every day. He missed the first two weeks of school while trekking from Los Angeles for the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Game to Chicago for the Under Armour All-America Game.
Tate was beat, suggesting that he too is a mere mortal. So he decided to skip his senior season of football.
"I felt like I needed some time off, that my body needed some time off," Tate says. "My body wasn't physically ready to play at the time."
But as soon as Tate got back to Cartersville, his friends got in his ear. He saw them playing without him and felt he was letting them down. And he missed the game. So he asked if he could rejoin the football team, and after the players voted him back on, he was in uniform by the second game of the season.
"I didn't want to let them down because it was our senior season," Tate says. "I didn't want to have any regrets on not playing."
Good thing. Tate completed 68-of-117 passes for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns in just six games at quarterback this past fall. He also rushed for three scores, made 10 catches for 223 yards, and had three interceptions and 43 tackles while playing a variety of positions over the course of the season.
In the first round of the Class AAA state
playoffs, Tate led Cartersville to a 34-31 win over heavily favored St. Pius X, throwing for 178 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 106 yards and another TD.
The following week against Gainesville, Tate cracked a rib throwing the first of four touchdown passes but stayed in the game to go 18-of-26 for 253 yards in a 42-28 loss.
"For him to suck it up and play at the level he did was pretty impressive," Cartersville football coach Frank Barden says. "Not to mention it was about 20 degrees that night."
OK, so he's immune to cold and injury, too? It can't possibly be that easy, can it?
The truth, of course, is that it's not. This is a kid who works out in the morning, practices in the afternoon and watches film at night so he can get better at reading defenses. A kid who hits 200 balls a day off a tee during baseball season because it's all about "just getting reps."
"I can't just take days off because not
everybody's going to take a day off," he says. "Just knowing that, you got to keep bettering yourself and your ability to play."
But gosh, he sure does make it look easy.
"He gets to every fly ball, he hits home runs, he throws people out, he pitches, he steals bases," Chester says. "Everything looks so effortless. When he runs he's not breathing hard -- he's not out of breath, but he's flying."
The apparent ease with which Tate plays can be deceiving. During the third and final game of the Class AAA state baseball championship series against Stephens County last spring, Tate hit a frozen rope that bounced just in front of the left fielder. The outfielder made the mistake of coming up with the ball nonchalantly, and by the time he returned the ball to the infield, Tate had taken second.
Tate popped up and made a slight fist pump, causing the 'Canes dugout to go crazy. It was a small play, but it meant a lot, and Chester says it helped spark Cartersville's 13-1 win. The state title capped a season in which Tate hit .512 with nine home runs and 43 RBIs.
After the requisite dog pile near the mound, Tate and his teammates hopped into nearby Nancy Creek, following a school tradition established in 2001.
For once, Tate wasn't the coolest customer around: He was splashing about just like everyone else.
"At that point it was a surreal feeling, just kind of enjoying the moment," Tate says.
It was one of the best moments of Tate's prep career, but it won't be the first thing his coach remembers when Tate graduates.
"I care about and will miss Donavan Tate," Chester says. "Not Donavan Tate the football
player, not Donavan Tate the baseball player, but Donavan Tate. Selfishly, I'll miss the home runs and the stolen bases, but the thing that sticks out most in my mind that I'll miss is Donavan the person."
And so, until someone can provide evidence to the contrary, there's only one conclusion to be drawn:
Donavan Tate is for real.
Lucas O'Neill covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.