Antonio Ethan Gates Sr. was born in Detroit, Michigan and starred in football and basketball at Detroit’s Central High School. After brief stints at Michigan State and Eastern Michigan University, Gates played college basketball for two years at Kent State where he led the Golden Flashes to two MAC championships and a surprise NCAA tournament run which ended in the Elite Eight.
Despite a decorated college career, he did not pursue an NBA career. Instead, he held an NFL tryout and earned an undrafted free agent contract with the San Diego Chargers. During his 2003 rookie campaign, Gates, who had not played organized football since high school, ascended atop San Diego’s depth chart at tight end and earned first team All-Pro honors in only his second season.
Gates went on to play fifteen NFL seasons with the Chargers, earning first team All-Pro honors in three consecutive seasons, appearing in eight Pro Bowls, and was named a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He remains the Chargers’ all-time leader in receptions (955) and receiving yards (11,841) and holds the NFL record for career touchdowns by a tight end (116). His #44 was retired by Kent State in 2010.