Back balances field and fatherhood

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Thomas Tate
Thomas Tate has rushed for 304 yards in three games for Bridgewater despite certainly having other things on his mind.

Many college students find it challenging to balance classroom work with homework, athletics and maybe even a part-time job.

But think about adding a child to the equation. Or, to be more accurate, add three.

That’s where 26-year-old Thomas “Teley” Tate’s life is. The Bridgewater tailback is a senior and juggling his schooling with taking care of three girls.

“It’s pretty hard,” said Tate, who acknowledged that the financial end of school and family can also be difficult. “Last year, wasn’t too bad, but this year is a little bit harder because I’m a senior. It’s a lot more reading with my major. But I have a lot of help at home.”

Tate is from Staunton, Va., a town a little more than 20 miles from the Bridgewater campus. He said he has a support cast of his mom, dad and grandparents who help raise the three girls, two of whom are Tate’s biological daughters.

The man behind the No. 20 jersey hasn’t always been this close to home. When he began looking at colleges, his first plan was to go to Liberty University in Lynchburg. But he said that didn’t work out. He then attempted to enroll at Bridgewater but wasn’t accepted. Tate spent two seasons at Shenandoah, where he played football and got the necessary credits – and improved his grades – to transfer to Bridgewater and be closer to his extended family.

Since joining the Eagles, Tate has been explosive on the field. He is the seventh player in school history to reach 1,000 yards rushing, and he reached that mark in fewer carries than anyone else had ever done – 68 fewer carries, in fact. This year, he has 304 yards in just three games and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

But his truest success might be from how well he handles his academics, athletics and parenthood. The two oldest girls he takes care of are 5 and 7 years old. And just this summer, he welcomed a new daughter to the family.

And Tate said they all always comes out on Saturdays to see him play.

“I’ve never been around a guy who has to balance as much to be successful as Teley does,” coach Mike Clark said in Bridgewater’s game-day program. “He’s 18 hours short of graduation and him finishing his degree at Bridgewater, with all he’s had to overcome, would be one of the great accomplishments that I’ve seen.”

Tate was 21 when the 5-year-old, his oldest biological child, arrived. He was working at the Hershey Chocolate plant in Stuarts Draft, Va., and had dated his child’s mother, whose family is also from the area, since just out of high school. That fall, he began at Shenandoah.

Tate family
Thomas Tate and the three kids.
Bridgewater athletics photo

Nowadays, Tate is on a work-study program with the athletic department and tries to steal a few moments for himself here and there. But mostly, it’s all eyes on his family.

“Usually when I get home, I don’t really have any time to myself,” Tate said. “I have to help [the kids] with their homework or get dinner ready. Then I got to do my own homework. Plus, now with the baby, I got to make sure she gets everything she needs. And I have to make sure I give her mom a break.”

His homework might be hard, but helping the girls with theirs isn’t.

“Homework is kind of fun with them because the stuff is so easy,” he said with a laugh. “I remember when I was a kid, it seemed hard, but it’s really easy now.”

Tate aspires to teach elementary education and coach football, so he knows the value of homework and priorities and working with his kids.

“I’d really like to have more time to spend with them and help out,” he said. “Especially, the two older ones, they’re young, but they understand that I have to come to school and I have to do my schoolwork. And they’re actually excited that I’m still in school, and I know they see me still going to school, and it makes it easier for them to say, ‘This is what I got to do.’ ”

Pleasures and pain of parity
The Old Dominion is again shaping up as a conference defined by the perception of parity, with four teams sitting undefeated after Week 4. I say “perception” because until the teams actually play one another, there are no certainties.

Emory and Henry, Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon all stand at 4-0, with H-SC and R-MC having true signature wins under their belts against Salisbury and Johns Hopkins, respectively. Bridgewater, at 3-0, rounds out the ODAC’s undefeateds.

Why is parity good? It makes for an exciting and challenging season for the players, coaches and fans. And the downside? Conferences that beat themselves up in the regular season are forced into poor seedings come playoff time. Just ask the Washington and Lee, Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon teams from 2006 to 2008. They were among the one-and-done teams of the past four seasons for the ODAC. The low seedings led them into the waiting jaws of teams like Mount Union and Wesley in Round 1 – the types of games that almost guarantee a loss for the underdogs.

I appreciate parity. It makes for a meaningful season for a larger swath of the conference rather than just the top team that continues on in Week 12. There’s the greater uncertainty of week-to-week play, giving more meaning to the notion of “any given Saturday.” Emerging the top dog among relative equals is a far greater prize than being superior among clear inferiors.

And the threat of loss lingers. As an observer of the sport, I’m fascinated to see how teams respond to loss and setback. I feel it says a lot about the program if they can rebound. The best teams in the country find a way to rebound. In the past six Stagg Bowls, a quarter of the teams showed up there despite having a regular-season blemish.

What will help a conference with high parity is performance in its nonconference games. Don’t just focus on the success of your team but also the success of those around you. For example, E&H’s undefeated nonconference record would reflect well on any conference opponent who happens to beat the Wasps down the road.

The ODAC teams that are 4-0 did so with some impressive wins over the weekend:

  • E&H didn’t let the injury of one of its top receivers get them down as they spread out the ball against Methodist and piled on 49 points for a lopsided win at home. It marked the first time since the final game of the 2004 season, Lou Wacker’s last as coach, that the Wasps scored that much.
  • H-SC drove 70 yards and scored with a little over a minute on the clock to defeat previously unbeaten Salisbury 32-28. Tigers quarterback Travis Lane had a banner day with 383 yards passing and two touchdowns.
  • R-MC clobbered Frostburg State 48-14, with 45 of those points coming in the first half. Wide receiver Earl Peoples, a 2009 All-American, found the end zone three times, including a 52-yard punt return in the first quarter.

This coming weekend, E&H and R-MC square off, giving us prime insight into the ODAC’s parity. Close games prove the point of parity. A blowout could say a whole lot more and help define which teams are truly in the running for a postseason NCAA bid.

Wolverines claw toward victory
Wesley traveled nearly 500 miles to square off against a traditionally tough OAC team. The Wolverines overcame penalty woes (147 yards’ worth) and scored twice in the final five minutes to pull away for a 42-21 win against Capital. Wesley quarterback Justin Sottilare connected for 361 yards and four touchdowns on the day – two of them going to Ellis Krout. The defense also stepped in by forcing three turnovers. With Capital entering the game at 1-1, this didn’t turn out to be the premier matchup that many, including myself (see Kickoff 2010), had hoped. Still, kudos to Capital for rising to the challenge of adding a team of Wesley’s caliber to its schedule.

The blitz package
Muhlenberg mustered up some homecoming magic to snag an overtime win against Gettysburg. Wideout Isaiah Vaughn topped the Mules with 57 receiving yards, which included a 25-yard touchdown grab for the winning points.

Dickinson’s first win of the season became McDaniel’s first loss. Starting at the close of the first half, the Red Devils posted 20 unanswered points to pull away for a 41-16 win.

We’ve seen it before (many times) and will no doubt see it again: N.C. Wesleyan starts the season 1-2. Pressure on the quarterback was a big factor in a 35-24 win over LaGrange. The Bishops had nine tackles for loss, including three sacks.

Contact me
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at I’m sure that I missed some highlights in the region. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.