Gates has taken a non-traditional route to become a head coach. He graduated from McEachern and played college ball at the University of Georgia. After graduating, he entered the business world and crafted a successful career while raising a family. When his children got old enough to play, Gates got involved as a youth league coach – although he avoided coaching his children – and began to show his skills on the sideline. He took a Kennesaw Mountain youth program that had gone 1-6 in back-to-back seasons and went 3-7, 7-3, 9-1 and 12-0. The success caused a friend to encourage Gates to try to coach on the high school level.
So, he stepped away from the real world, took a 50 percent pay cut and became a high school assistant. He worked for five years at North Cobb and has been at Kell since 2016. Over the last few years he was runner-up for head coaching jobs at Kell, Creekview and Kennesaw Mountain. He didn’t bother applying for a couple of high-profile vacancies, but saw plenty of opportunity at Cass and sent in his resume.
“There was something about Cass that intrigued me,” he said. “I wanted to find a struggling program and fix it, kind of like what we did (in recreation football), and make a big impact.”
The success this year has been led by an experienced and deep defense. Only once have they allowed more than 14 points.
“We’ve got a bunch of juniors and seniors on the two-deep roster,” Gates said. “We can rotate a lot of guys in and out.”
The defense is led by team captain Elijah Harris, an undersized (5-9, 170 pounds) middle linebacker who was voted team captain because of his non-stop motor and leadership. Junior safety Mark Perdue had a growth spurt over the summer – he’s now 6-2, 200 pounds – and may be the hardest hitter on the team.
The offense is led by freshman quarterback Devin Henderson, a 5-10, 175-pounder who plays beyond his years. He’s already thrown for close to 1,000 yards.
“He’s going to be pretty special,” Gates said. “And he’s getting better every single day. He’s learned that he can’t just out-athlete people like he did in middle school. He’s learning to go to the second and third read before he decides to run.”
Other key pieces on offense are Chris Pittard, who moved from center to tackle, and wide receiver C.J. Pipkin, a basketball player who has already shown big-time moves on the football field.
Cass also has two of the top specialists in the state in kicker Kaleb Speights and punter Isai Romero. Gates doesn’t hesitate to use Speights for anything 45 yards or closer and Romero has a cannon leg. Both will be in the picture for all-state consideration.
The Colonels are off this week before opening competition in Region 8 against Cartersville