He’s 26 years old and his teammates call him “Grandpops,” but Donavan Tate is the least experienced quarterback on the Arizona Wildcats’ roster, to say the least.
A former Minor League Baseball player, Tate has not played organized football since 2008 when he was a senior at Cartersville High School in Georgia.
So to say Tate has a long way to go to get up to speed for Pac-12 football would be an understatement. However, Rich Rodriguez said the walk-on “can definitely compete” for the Wildcats’ starting quarterback job.
“He’s a grown man,” Rodriguez said of the 6-foot-2, 207-pound freshman. “We coach him like a grown man. He’s got some skills.”
Out of high school, Tate was a four-star recruit and was labeled as an athlete, as he played quarterback, wide receiver, safety, and cornerback.
“He was an unbelievably gifted athlete,” former UNC coach Butch Davis told ESPN. “You can watch the video highlights and you can see all kinds of stuff, you can see him playing running back, you can see him playing corner and safety and wide receiver for his high school team, but the moment at which they moved him to quarterback, you just saw an extremely talented athlete -- somebody that's got a lot of skills, a lot of charisma, a lot of poise."
After being away from football for nearly a decade, the mental part of the game may be as difficult to adjust to as the physicality of it, but Rodriguez said Arizona’s four freshman quarterbacks, Tate included, have had no problem picking up the team’s offense, and junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins called Tate a “bookworm.”
“I’m there trying to help him out as much as I can, but he’s just being a sponge and that’s all you can ask for him to do is be a sponge, absorb everything you can and just learn,” Dawkins said. “Going from being a professional athlete in one sport and then trying to flip it over to another sport, that’s a feat in itself. The fact that he’s taking it on full speed, I can only commend him for it.”
Wide receiver Tony Ellison has been impressed by Tate, too, and said he has “a pretty good arm.”
“He’s a baseball guy and is pretty big too, so it’s kinda fun watching him throw the ball around and around,” Ellison said. “Especially in this system. It’s hard to learn that fast, and I think he’s doing a good job.”
Running back Zach Green, whose locker is next to Tate’s, said the 26-year-old reminds him of former Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon.
“He has the same mannerisms and playing style as Anu, so I think he’s going to be really good,” Green said.
Friday’s practice marked the first time Tate played in full pads and at full speed at Arizona. He might be a former baseball player, but he showed he’s not averse to taking a hit.
“He’s an athletic, tough guy. He stuck his face in there,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if he ever ran into a catcher or tried to break up a double play, but he had about six or seven of those the other day.
“I’m excited about him, too.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire