- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Indiana has spent most of the training camp practicing in oppressive heat, but Andre Kates doesn't mind.
When the Hoosiers' strength and conditioning staff demands one more rep in the weight room, Kates willingly obliges.
And when Kates' new teammates whine about the size of their uniforms, the cornerback just shakes his head and smiles.
"They're like, 'Man, it's too tight,'" Kates said. "In junior college, we had to put tape around our uniforms to try to make it tight."
Kates has no complaints about the rigors of preseason camp at a Big Ten school. After what he has been through the last few years, this is the easy part.
Kates' road to Indiana started near Washington D.C., made a U-turn in Gainesville, Fla., nearly stretched to California and eventually reached junior colleges in upstate New York and Brooklyn. He faced academic hurdles and, for a time, questioned whether he still wanted to play, but he's finally ready for the spotlight.
"I have big plans," Kates said.
Kates also had big plans at Surrattsville High School outside Washington D.C., where he thrived in a number of positions, including quarterback, wide receiver, return specialist and even long snapper. Recruited as an athlete, Kates verbally committed to play for national powerhouse Florida.
But he failed to qualify academically, putting his plans on hold.
"I thought I was going to get away with it," he said. "Since I was a big-time football player in high school, I thought, ‘Aw, man, I’m alright. They’ll let me through, they’ll let me through.’ But it didn’t happen. It was real tough, thinking you’re about to go in and play at a big-time program like that, and then you turn around and realize you’re not eligible.
"After the Florida thing, I was done. I didn’t want to play any more."
Kates considered "life as a regular teenager" but was steered back by several people, including his uncle, Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, and his best friend, Joe Haden, who went on to star for Florida at cornerback.
"They were saying, ‘Dre, you’ve got to stick in there. Go to a junior college, get your mind right," Kates said.
The original plan called for Kates to attend Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif., but financial issues forced him to stay home and help support his family. He eventually enrolled at Erie Community College, which has campuses both in and near Buffalo, N.Y.
Kates recorded three interceptions in his first season as a defensive player, earning all-conference honors. He also became Indiana's first commit for the 2010 class, pledging in May 2009, but his academics remained an issue.
"When he first committed to us, I traveled to Erie and his first transcript wasn't great," Hoosiers co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic recalled. "I told him, 'Hey, you need to get this many hours and a C or better in all your classes to transfer. He told me, 'Coach, I can do it.'"
Kates needed 61 transferable credits to enroll at Indiana and no grades below a C. After a year at Erie, he transferred to ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., which could offer him scholarship money. The problem: ASA only accepted six of the 24 credits Kates had earned at Erie.
Kates began taking a full course load at ASA and also enrolled in online courses elsewhere to make up ground. He finished junior college with a 3.4 GPA and earned his associate's degree.
"I was taking 18 credits during the school year and six credits on the side, just to get here," he said. "So I had the will to want to do it."
On the field, Kates continued to excel, earning junior college All-America honors for ASA with 64 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass breakups, four blocked field goals and two blocked punts. Named Junior College Player of the Year by Triumphant Sports, he received 18 offers from FBS programs, including Miami and Clemson, but stuck with Indiana.
Having the chance to face the Hoosiers' talented wide receivers in practice lured Kates, but Palcic was the biggest reason why he came to Bloomington.
"He was one coach I always respected," Kates said. "Every contact period he had, he gave me a call and let me know they really need me, and now I’m here."
Although Kates was Indiana's first verbal, he took visits elsewhere and raised anxiety among Hoosiers fans, not to mention Palcic.
"I wasn’t 100 percent confident," Palcic said. "He kept telling me, ‘Indiana's it, Indiana's it,’ but until that final week, I wasn’t sure."
Kates now finds himself in a six-man cluster for two starting cornerback spots that Palcic calls the most competitive position race on the team. Indiana returns two veterans in Richard Council and Adrian Burks, and brought in another juco corner, Lenyatta Kiles, who went through spring drills.
Kiles and Kates have bonded, reviewing video of every practice together after the regular review with the team. Both players should see plenty of field time this fall.
"He came in surprisingly polished," Palcic said of Kates. "He has great backpedal, quick feet, he's explosive coming out of his breaks. I'm impressed with his ability to pick up the defense."
Kates credits his support system for helping him to this point: Portis, Haden, his parents and his sister. He also continues to play football as a tribute to his brother, Cameron, who died of a brain tumor in 1996.
"He's been a big-time motivation," Kates said.
It has been a long road, but Kates has no regrets.
"I've started a new chapter," he said.