It’s been a busy spring for Vanderbilt sophomore running back Wesley Tate, and that’s exactly the way he wants it.
To this point in his career, there’s been far too much sitting and watching, far too much rehabilitating from injuries and far too much waiting and wondering what he could do if he were truly 100 percent.
“This is as healthy as I’ve been since I got to Vanderbilt,” said Tate, who will enter his third year in the program next season. “I’ve had a foot, a knee, a couple of ankles. It’s been a lot of rehab and working hard to feel 100 percent again. I finally feel like I’m there.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Tate, either.
With junior running back Warren Norman sitting out spring practice this year while recovering from wrist surgery, Tate has been front and center in the Commodores’ backfield as James Franklin and his first-year Vanderbilt coaching staff assess their personnel for the first time on the field.
Franklin has made it clear that he’s looking for more of that explosive speed the Commodores have traditionally lacked, and the 6-2, 225-pound Tate possesses that blend of size and speed that Franklin covets.
“The thing about Tate is that he’s a big kid, 225 pounds, but he can run,” Franklin said. “He’s a guy I think can take it the distance in this league. If you just take height, weight and speed, that combination, I’d rank him with anybody in the country. What he’s got to be able to do is produce on Saturdays. But the combination of Norman, Tate and (Zac) Stacy is an impressive group of backs, and they all complement each other.”
Tate, the younger brother of Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, said the frustration of trying to fight off one injury after another nearly got the best of him. About the time he thought he might be turning the corner, he’d aggravate the stress fracture in his foot.
“I’d never had any serious injuries before I got here, and it was just a continuous thing,” Tate said. “It seemed like new stuff kept popping up. All I could do was try to keep it positive, but it wasn’t easy.”
Tate has meshed well with the new coaching staff, and he said new strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt has helped him to get stronger and maybe even faster.
“It’s a clean slate for everybody, and the coaches have had a lot of opportunities to evaluate me,” said Tate, who’s one of the faster players on the team.
In addition to being healthy, the other thing that’s so enticing to Tate is Franklin’s system. Tate feels like it’s a perfect fit for what he does best.
“We’re not out of the shotgun all the time and are instead under center most of the time now,” Tate said. “I’d rather be running downhill behind the quarterback and attack the weaknesses of defense. We’re also going to get the backs involved in the passing game. I love this system.”
The label Tate wants to shed is that he’s more of a third-down back.
“I definitely think I can be an every-down running back, a complete running back,” he said. “I can split out wide and catch the ball, but I can also get the tough yards when it’s third-and-1 or third-and-2 and also make the explosive plays down the field.
“There’s a lot of room for me to get better, but I feel like this is my year to show what kind of player I am and show all of the aspects of a great running back.”