“He’s absolutely equipped,” John Bunting said about Tate immediately following the Tar Heels' first preseason practice on Friday. “He has all the physical tools. He is a confident player. He’s an explosive player.”
Expectations are high for Tate to make the transition from return man to receiver a smooth one. That, in itself, translates to an incredible challenge.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Tate said. “I’m just going to go out and play my game. I really don’t get all that much into the hype and everything.”
Tate, 6-1, 190, from Burlington, set a school record last year with an average of 49.7 yards per return in the Tar Heels’ win over Utah, including a 96-yard return for a touchdown on the game’s opening kickoff.
Playing in all 11 games, he was ranked among the nation’s top 25 kickoff return men. He was one of just seven true freshmen to see action in 2005.
For the year, Tate had 21 kickoff returns for 542 yards, an average of 25.8 yards per return. He also fielded 29 punts and ran for 267 yards, an average of 9.2 yards per return.
“Going from kick returner is a big transition, so I’ve been working hard in the weight room,” Tate said. “I think I can help the team more at receiver, though.”
The last time in a game he had a pass thrown his way was when he was as senior at Cummings High School. There, he led Cummings with 66 receptions for 1,213 yards and 18 touchdowns in 15 games. He helped lead his team to the 2003 state finals and the semifinals in 2004.
Still, Tate won’t know what playing receiver at the college level is like until he catches that first pass in a Carolina uniform. He hopes it comes early Sept. 2 versus Rutgers.
“It’s going to feel kind of funny, because I haven’t caught a pass in two years,” Tate said. “I’m probably going to be hyper as a… I don’t know. It’s going to be fun.”
“We’ve just got to get the ball in his hands,” added Bunting. “I want him to get the ball in his hands and make somebody miss.”