FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -– Mike Tate walked into the coaches’ office at Federal Way (Wash.) High School.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound receiver with scholarship offers from Idaho, Portland State, Montana and Eastern Washington wore a black T-shirt -– a purple Washington logo mounted in the middle -– khaki shorts and a Huskies hat.
He settled into a chair. He tried to explain something he has never shared. The words didn’t come easy.
“My older brother, when he was about 17, he was charged with murder and sent to prison,” Tate said.
It has been almost four years since Tate’s older brother was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison. Tate thinks about him often. The memories keep Tate motivated to move forward.
“It’s like he’s shown me what not to do, because I’ve seen the pain that my mom went through,” said Tate, who chose not to name his brother. “He was being a role model, but not in a good way.
“I think about it a lot, especially when there are people who do illegal stuff, smoking, drinking. It helps, because if I get caught, I can end up in that place. A lot of things can happen where I could get my scholarship revoked and things like that. I think of it more like, be on the right track all the time, not just some of the time.”
Described by his family and coaches as reserved and cautious, passionate and dedicated, Tate was in eighth grade when his brother was convicted. As he tried to process the situation, he focused on football.
“He used football as his out,” said Tate’s mother, Shawnte Garrett. “He used it as a means to let his frustration out, while staying focused on his goals. He handled it the way he could, and that was not following that path, doing something different, channeling that energy somewhere else, because his brother set an example that was not the path he wanted to go down.”
In the months after the conviction, Tate refused to talk about what happened. He visited his brother. He talked to him on the phone. But they didn’t discuss the details.
They still don’t.
“We try to stay away from that subject,” said Tate, who still loves his older brother after everything that has happened. “We just see how each other is doing. He usually asks me how I’m doing in football and who I’ve been talking to. We both pretty much know exactly what happened.”
Now, as he prepares for his senior year, Tate has put himself in a position to play college football. He has dreamed about what it would be like to play for the hometown Huskies, but he understands the program already has secured verbal commitments from three receivers in the 2013 class.
“It would be an honor,” said Tate, who would like to land a few more offers before he commits.
He spent the past few weeks going on unofficial visits, trying to decide what school best fits his future.
“I’ve been working really hard for a while,” said Tate, who plans on majoring in physical therapy. “Ever since I was in middle school, this is what I wanted to do. As signing day gets close, I get more anxious.”
While Tate works toward his goal of playing college football, he continues to set a good example for his younger brother, Marcus, in addition to making sure his mother -– who works three jobs to support her children -– remains proud of his progress.
“He’s trying to get to a better place to help his mom, because she’s a single mom trying to raise two kids,” said Federal Way offensive coordinator Marcus “Izzy” Yzaguirre, who has coached Tate since his first year of youth football. “He just wants to make it out of that and give his mom something to be proud of.”
In addition to being a receiver with Division I potential, Tate ran the anchor leg on the Eagles’ 4x400-meter relay team that won the Class 4A state title with a time of 3:19.08.
“There’s not too much he can’t do, and everybody in the school knows that, but yet you wouldn’t know it if you just see him, because he doesn’t brag about it,” said Yzaguirre, who also coaches him in track.
Signing day might be months away, but that hasn’t stopped Tate from thinking about what it will be like to sign his letter of intent Feb. 1.
He sees the smile on his mother’s face. Marcus is standing nearby. He is surrounded by teammates and coaches. He puts on a hat and only needs three words to show where he has been and where he is headed.
“I made it.”