Antonio Gates went from college basketball standout to unknown free agent tight end to an unprecedented record-breaking playing career. Undoubtedly the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be the final stop for the soft-spoken, humble athlete from Detroit.
However the Hall of Fame must wait as he continues to be a dominant force for the Chargers who enters his 14th NFL season with a new two-year contract.
Gates has been elected to eight Pro Bowls and five Associated Press All-Pro teams. He’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team (2000-09), one of the 50 Greatest Chargers of All-Time, a four-time Chargers Offensive Player of the Year, and a four-time Team Captain.
He enters the 2016 season holding franchise records for career receptions (844), receiving yards (10,644) and touchdown catches (104). All-time he ranks 27th in NFL history for receptions (third among tight ends), 38th in receiving yards (third among tight ends) and seventh in touchdown catches (second among tight ends). He needs just eight more touchdown catches to pass Tony Gonzalez for most by a tight end in League history.
Gates’ 104 touchdown catches since he came into the NFL in 2003 are the most in the NFL over the last 12-plus years (2003-current). He has 21-career multi-touchdown games during that stretch, most by a tight end in NFL history. One of the most clutch receivers the NFL has ever seen, Gates’ 37 touchdown catches on third-down plays are fourth in NFL history and most among tight ends. And his four seasons with 10 or more touchdowns are second-most in NFL history among tight ends.
Eight times in 13 seasons, Gates has led the team in receiving touchdowns. He’s also led the team in catches eight times and in yards five times. Gates has 21 career 100-yard games, sixth-most in team history.
Gates missed the first four games of the 2015 NFL season due to a League suspension, but he returned to play in 11 of the Chargers’ final 12 games and he still ended the year as the team’s third-leading receiver with 56 catches good for 630 yards and five scores.
The adversity that Gates faced and overcame in 2015 was slight compared to the personal heartache he dealt with just a year earlier. In July 2014, his younger sister, Pamela, died after a three-year battle with Lupus. Gates missed the entire offseason program so that he could remain in his hometown of Detroit, close to his family. Gates and his sister were extremely close and her illness hit him hard. With his football home halfway across the country from his hometown, Gates even pondered retirement. The Chargers remained supportive and Gates stayed by Pamela’s bedside even as she lie in a coma for weeks prior to her passing. She died the day he ultimately returned to San Diego to join his teammates for the start of training camp. Gates made his peace with Pamela’s illness before returning to Southern California and it provided both inspiration and a springboard for what lie ahead. Gates started the season on a tear. He caught nine touchdown passes in the team’s first eight games, tying the team record for touchdowns in the first half of a season, and he ended the season with 12, tied for most in the NFL among tight ends and his best tally since 2004. Gates turned 34 two months before the 2014 season started and he became only the fourth 34-year-old player in NFL history with a 12-touchdown season, joining Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens.
Gates’ route to the NFL has been well-chronicled. When he signed with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2003, he had not played football since his senior season at Detroit’s Central High School. He began his collegiate career at Michigan State under the assumption that he could play both football and basketball, but when football coach Nick Saban relented, Gates chose to focus on hoops and decided it was best to leave the East Lansing campus. An up-and-down start to his basketball career sent him to three different schools before he finally found a home at Kent State. He played there two seasons and helped lead the Golden Flashes to back-to-back Mid-American Conference championships and the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Gates ended his career as the sixth-leading scorer in school history and in Feb. 2010, he returned to the Kent, Ohio, campus to have his No. 44 jersey retired by the school.
With football as his platform, Gates has become a prominent community figure. When the NFL sought out spokespeople to appear in their “No More” campaign to stop domestic violence in 2014, Gates was among a select group of players asked to appear in a series of television public service announcements. Locally, he’s hosted the Shop with a Charger event that became one of the most popular holiday events in San Diego, as Gates hosted homeless, neglected and abused children to a special night that included a Christmas shopping spree. He also has been a staunch supporter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, serving for a number of years as the honorary chairman for the Shoot to Cure HD, which raises much-needed research funds for the HDSA. And Gates works closely with Promises2Kids, an organization that offers support to San Diego’s foster youth community.
In his hometown of Detroit, Gates is involved in boxing as the owner of AG Promotions. He has a stable of young fighters and regularly stages fight cards in and around Detroit. Gates’ paternal grandfather, Henry Hank, was a professional boxer in the 1950s and ’60s who went 62-31-4 with 40 wins by knockout as a middleweight and light heavyweight. Hank’s 1962 fight against Joey Giardello was voted the Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. Old photos show a striking resemblance between Gates and his grandfather. Gates now works with his cousin, Tony Harrison, who is one of boxing’s top young middleweights. Harrison is off to a 23-1-0 record with 19 wins by knockout to start his career.
Gates’ wife, Sasha, is an aspiring R&B musician who is due to release her first album in 2016. Besides being a mother to the couple’s two children, Sasha stars on the E! reality show WAGS. She also helps run the Dolling Foundation, which inspires women to maintain a strong sense of self by enhancing their natural beauty that was compromised by hair loss due to catastrophic illness or tragedy.
TRANSACTION HISTORY: Signed with Chargers, May 2, 2003…signed six-year contract Aug. 22, 2005...signed six-year contract through 2015, July 28, 2010...signed two-year contract, March 14, 2016.
2015: Team Captain...season debut Oct. 12 vs. Pittsburgh on ESPN’s Monday Night Football and had two touchdown catches, 100th and 101st of career...moved past Don Hutson (99), Tim Brown (100) and Steve Largent (100) and into sole possession of seventh on NFL’s all-time TD receptions list...92 receiving yards vs. Steelers to run career total to 10,106 and pass Shannon Sharpe (10,060) for third all-time among tight ends...800th career catch to ignite third-quarter touchdown drive Oct. 18 at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field...played in 181st career game vs. Packers, tying Dan Fouts for sixth in team history...inactive Oct. 25 vs. Oakland (knee)...six catches Nov. 9 vs. Chicago to raise career total to 816 and pass Sharpe (815) for third all-time by tight end...night included season-long 40-yard catch, his longest since 2013...two TDs in 65-second span late in second quarter of 31-25 win at Jacksonville Nov. 29...nine-yard TD catch with 1:50 left in quarter and another nine-yarder with 45 seconds left after Manti Te’o interception.
2014: Pro Bowl first-alternate...Chargers Offensive Player of Year...Team Captain...Sept. 8 at Arizona, upped his career receiving total to 9,274 yards to pass Hall of Fame wide receiver Charlie Joiner (9,203) for second on team’s all-time receiving yardage list...first-career AFC Offensive Player of Week award after tying career-high with three touchdowns in 30-21 win over defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Sept. 14...first two TDs were 3rd-and-goal plays from eight and third was from 21 on 2nd-and-20 play...led team with 96 yards on seven catches vs. Seahawks...touchdowns were 88-90th career to pass Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Reed and Don Maynard for 11th on the NFL’s all-time list...Oct. 5 vs. New York Jets, caught 91-92nd touchdown passes of career to pass Isaac Bruce (91) for 10th all-time...scored both on 3rd down plays...third-quarter game-tying (21-21) one-yard TD catch in 31-28 win at Oakland Oct. 12...became Chargers’ all-time leading receiver Oct. 23 at Denver, collecting 54 yards to surpass Lance Alworth (9,584 yards)...passed him on 31-yard catch to Broncos’ two on 3rd-and-20 play to set up touchdown that tied game, 7-7...drew 12-yard holding penalty on 3rd-and-7 during same drive...two touchdown catches in second half to tie team record for most TDs (9) in first eight games of season...first touchdown on 4th-and-goal play was 750th career catch...Nov. 30 at Baltimore, 83 yards to pass Alworth (9,721) for second on team’s all-time scrimmage yards list...10th TD of season Dec. 14 vs. Denver to join New England’s Rob Gronkowski as only tight ends in NFL history with four 10-TD seasons...two second-half touchdowns in 38-35 overtime win at San Francisco Dec. 20...first score was third-down catch that began to erase 21-point deficit...second got Chargers within 35-28 with 5:15 left in game...TD catches were 98-99th career, to tie Don Hutson for ninth all-time...67 receiving yards Dec. 28 at Kansas City to become 44th player and fourth tight end in NFL history with more than 10,000 career yards.
2013: Pro Bowl third-alternate...team-high 124 yards in 33-30 win at Philadelphia Sept. 15, including catches of 15 and 21 yards on game-winning drive...second quarter lost fumble when hit from behind was first since Sept. 2008...eight catches vs. Eagles to top 650 career (652)...scored 500th career point and passed Alworth for fifth on team’s career scoring list on seven-yard TD catch in 150th career game Sept. 22 at Tennessee...84th-career TD to break tie with Alworth for second in team history...final points of 30-21 win over Dallas Sept. 29 on 56-yard TD in fourth quarter...was third-longest of career and longest since Dec. 6, 2009 at Cleveland (56 yards)...finished with game-high 136 yards...10 catches vs. Browns to raise career total to 667 and pass Ozzie Newsome (662) for fourth among tight ends in NFL history...game ball after 41-38 win at Kansas City Nov. 24...became fourth tight end in NFL history with 700 catches and 9,000 yards...fastest in NFL history to 9,000 yards (158 games) and third-fastest to 700 catches...biggest catch of game was 12 yarder on 3rd-and-10 during game-winning drive to go over 9,000...four-yard TD Dec. 29 vs. Chiefs tied game 14-14 in second quarter.
2012: 600th career catch Sept. 23 vs. Atlanta...fifth tight end and 59th player in NFL history with 600...Oct. 15 vs. Denver two touchdowns for 15th-career multi-TD game...team-high 81 yards vs. Broncos to raise career total to 8,007 and pass Ozzie Newsome for fourth in NFL history among TEs...80th-career TD Nov. 11 at Tampa Bay...tied Alworth’s franchise record with 81st TD Dec. 16 vs. Carolina...became Chargers’ all-time leader 82nd-career TD (34 yards) for 24-14 lead in Dec. 23 win at New York Jets...83rd TD Dec. 30 vs. Oakland to tie Alworth for second-most total TDs in team history.
2011: Pro Bowl...eight catches Week 1 vs. Minnesota to pass LaDainian Tomlinson for third on team’s all-time receptions list...inactive Weeks 3-5 (foot)...70th-career touchdown Oct. 23 at New York Jets to join Tony Gonzalez as only TEs in NFL history with 70...five catches vs. Jets (542 career) to pass Kellen Winslow (541) for second in team history...Dec. 5 at Jacksonville, passed Gary Garrison for third on team’s all-time receiving yardage list...Dec. 11 vs. Buffalo, scored first touchdown of game and during drive passed Garrison (7,562) for fourth on team’s all-time list for career scrimmage yards…second TD in third quarter (75th career) to become 27th player and second TE (Gonzalez) in NFL history with 75...Dec. 24 in hometown of Detroit, caught team-record 587th career pass for six yards on 4th-and-5 in fourth quarter to pass Charlie Joiner (586)...Jan. 1 at Oakland, season-long 38-yard TD on 3rd-and-9 play...ignited next scoring drive with 37-yard catch and contributed to third-quarter TD drive with nine-yard catch on 3rd-and-4, followed by 16-yarder that put him at season-high 106 for game.
2010: Pro Bowl...second-team Associated Press All-Pro...led team with 10 touchdown catches...60th career TD Sept. 13 at Kansas City...Sept. 19 vs. Jacksonville, passed Steve Jordan (6,307) for seventh in NFL receiving yards by tight end...nine-yard touchdown vs. Jaguars (61st career) broke tie with Jerry Smith for the third most TDs by tight end in NFL history…later, second TD (62nd career) tied Shannon Sharpe for second among TEs…12-yard touchdown catch Sept. 26 at Seattle (63rd career) for second all-time among TEs...passed Alworth (493) for fourth-most catches in team history...two touchdowns Oct. 3 vs. Arizona, eighth-straight game TD catch...500th career catch vs. Cardinals to become seventh tight end in NFL history and fastest to 500...12 points vs. Arizona for sixth on team’s all-time scoring list...19-yard touchdown catch Oct. 10 at Oakland to tie Alworth’s team record (1963) for consecutive games with touchdown (nine).. .injured foot Oct. 17 at St. Louis...Oct. 24 vs. New England, passed Winslow (6,741) for sixth-most yards by tight end in NFL history...fourth quarter TD was eighth of season, extending league record of consecutive seasons with at least eight TDs to seven...18th-career 100-yard game Oct. 31 vs. Tennessee, tying John Jefferson for seventh-most in team history...41st TD pass from Rivers vs. Tennessee set new team record for quarterback-tight end combo (Dan Fouts & Winslow, 40)...missed first-career game due to injury (foot) Nov. 7 at Houston...placed on “Reserve-Injured” Dec. 30...did not play in Pro Bowl due to injury (foot).
2009: Pro Bowl Starter...second-team All-Pro by Associated Press and first-team by Sports Illustrated...Chargers co-Offensive Player of Year...led team with 79 receptions and second with career-high 1,157 yards...14.6 average led all NFL tight ends...teamed with Vincent Jackson (1,167 yards) for Chargers’ first 1,000-yard receiving duo since 1985, and combined to give Chargers most yards by receiving duo since 1980...Oct. 24 at Pittsburgh, 124 yards and two touchdowns...scored first touchdown on 3rd-and-goal and had catches of 26 on 3rd-and-8 and 16 on 3rd-and-15 during drive...over 100 yards on second touchdown...drew 26-yard pass interference penalty on another touchdown drive...game ball after 118 yards and two touchdowns Nov. 29 vs. Kansas City...TDs were 54-55th career, third all-time among TEs...Dec. 13 at Dallas on receiving end of Philip Rivers’ 100th career touchdown pass...game ball after career-high 167 yards at Cleveland Dec. 6...catches of 56 and 18 yards during drive when LaDainian Tomlinson scored 150th career touchdown...Dec. 25 at Tennessee, on receiving end of 36-yard touchdown to set new season high for yards, while Rivers went over 4,000 yards for season...59th career touchdown catch Jan. 3 vs. Washington to pass Garrison (58) for second in team history.
2008: Pro Bowl selection…48th-career touchdown Oct. 26 vs. New Orleans in London to pass Joiner for third in team history…game-winning touchdown catch (eight yards) with 6:55 left in game vs. Kansas City Nov. 9…Chargers Alumni co-Offensive Player of Month (December)…two TDs Dec. 21 at Tampa Bay were 50-51st of career…fastest tight end in NFL history to 50 (92 gms), beating Jerry Smith (100)…went over 5,000 career yards on first touchdown...was second-fastest to 5,000 yards (Winslow, 69 games)…team-high eight catches in Jan. 5 Wild Card overtime win vs. Indianapolis…did not play in Pro Bowl (ankle).
2007: Pro Bowl starter…All-AFC by Pro Football Weekly and Professional Football Writers of America…17-yard halfback-option touchdown catch from Tomlinson in 14-3 Opening Day win vs. Chicago…game ball after 113 yards and touchdown Oct. 7 vs. Denver…touchdowns of 49 and 31 yards vs. Houston Oct. 28...over 4,000 career receiving yards in Texans’ game (68th career)...third-fastest tight end in NFL history to 4,000 behind Winslow (58 games) and Mike Ditka (67)…two touchdowns Nov. 25 vs. Baltimore (41 and 42 yards) to crack top-five on team’s touchdown receptions list…game-tying touchdown (two yards) with :09 left in fourth quarter of overtime win at Tennessee Dec. 9…in overtime, 11-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 of game-winning TD drive…toe injury in Wild Card vs. Tennessee…played in Divisional Playoffs and Championship Game with injured toe, but did not play in Pro Bowl.
2006: Pro Bowl…first-team All-Pro by Associated Press, Sporting News, USA Today Sports Weekly, Pro Football Weekly and Professional Football Writers of America, Sports Illustrated, SportsIllustrated.com, and ESPN.com...All-AFC by PFW and PFWA...NFL.com All-Interview…then-second-longest touchdown of career (57 yards) at San Francisco Oct. 15…19-yard touchdown catch from Tomlinson in 21-14 win vs. Oakland Nov. 26…Chargers Alumni Player of Week after 104 yards and two TDs Dec. 10 vs. Denver...first-career 100-yard game and touchdowns vs. Broncos…leading receiver in Jan. 14 AFC Playoffs vs. New England.
2005: Pro Bowl starter…first-team All-Pro by Associated Press, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and SportsIllustrated.com, ESPN.com, Pro Football Weekly and Professional Football Writers of America, and USA Today Sports Weekly…Chargers co-Offensive Player of Year…Pro Football Weekly Midseason All-Pro…tied team record for catches by tight end (89) and yards (1,101) were most by Bolts’ tight end since ’83 (Winslow)...second tight end in NFL history (Todd Christensen, ’83) with 1,100-yard, 10 touchdown season...23 touchdown catches between 2004-05 were most ever by tight end over two-year span...did not play Week 1 vs. Dallas (roster exemption)…Chargers Alumni Player of Week after tying career-high with three TDs among season-high 10 catches and 145 yards Oct. 30 vs. Kansas City...132 yards week later at Jets…27-yard TD catch for 14-3 lead over Buffalo Nov. 20, but injured foot in third quarter and did not return… started following week at Washington and 24-yard catch on first play of overtime immediately preceded game-winning 41-yard touchdown run by Tomlinson…career-best 13 catches for 123 yards vs. Miami Dec. 11 to raise season yardage total to new career-high (997)...eight-yard touchdown catch with :15 left in fourth quarter.
2004: Pro Bowl starter… first-team All-Pro by Associated Press, Football Digest, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and SportsIllustrated.com…second-team All-Pro by College & Pro Football Newsweekly…All-NFL, All-AFC and All-Pro second-team by Pro Football Weekly and Professional Football Writers of America…NFL Alumni Association Tight End of Year…Chargers Offensive Player of Year…season-high 123 yards in Week 1 at Houston… Chargers Alumni Player of Week after season-high three touchdowns vs. New Orleans Nov. 7…first Chargers receiver with three touchdown catches in game since ’97 (Tony Martin vs. Baltimore) and first three-touchdown game by Bolts tight end since ’83 (Winslow vs. Kansas City)…10-11th touchdowns at Kansas City Nov. 28 to set new team season mark for TEs (Winslow and Willie Frazier, 10)…eight scores in four games tied Wes Chandler for most by Charger in four-game stretch…career-long 72-yard touchdown in AFC West-clinching win at Cleveland Dec. 19…12th touchdown of season tied NFL record for tight ends…set tight end single- season touchdown record with 13th at Indianapolis Dec. 26…one-yard touchdown catch with 11 seconds left in fourth quarter forced overtime in Wild Card vs. Jets…had catches of 21 and 44 yards during TD drive…12-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning for 28-7 lead in second quarter of 38-27 Pro Bowl win Feb. 13.
2003: First-career touchdown Nov. 9 vs. Minnesota from Doug Flutie…season-high 117 yards and season-long 48-yard catch Dec. 14 vs. Green Bay…first 100-yard receiving game by Chargers rookie since Wayne Walker at Washington (1989).
COLLEGE: Honorable mention AP All-America as senior at Kent State...averaged 20.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game…first-team All-MAC...runner-up for MAC Player of Year…spent first semester at Michigan State...transferred to Eastern Michigan in Spring ’99, averaging 10.2 ppg and 7.4 rpg…attended College of Sequoias in 2000-01 but did not play…general studies major.
PERSONAL: Born in Detroit, Michigan…led Detroit Central High to Class A state title as senior…first-team all-state football and basketball.