Wesley Tate couldn’t outrun the family genes.
His older brother, Golden, was a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame and is in his second season with the Seattle Seahawks. His father, also named Golden, played receiver at Tennessee State and was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1984.
Wesley, however, took a different path. He was a three-year starter at running back at Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville. After redshirting his freshman season at Vanderbilt in 2009, he played in 11 games at running back, rushing for 140 yards on 40 carries in a reserve role last fall.
After an impressive spring with a new coaching staff, he entered fall preseason camp as the big back in the backfield.
That changed earlier this week.
Coach James Franklin moved Tate to the slot receiver position. The hope is that he will bring some size (he is the biggest receiver on the team at 225 pounds) and speed (he was a state high school champion in the 100-meter dash) to a position that Franklin repeatedly called a “concern.”
“He gives us some more athleticism at that position, obviously a bigger guy as well that can be physical,” wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said. “At the same time, he is probably the fastest guy on the team. So he can run away from cats. He definitely gives us some more toys in that area to play with.”
Moving to wide receiver could mean added pressure on the younger to fall into his father and brother’s footsteps. He looks at it another way.
“I use my dad and brother as a tool to help me,” Wesley Tate said. “My brother just moved to slot too. I don’t find any pressure at all.”
Adjusting to route running and reading coverages in the secondary will be new, but he said he talked to Golden III about what to expect at the position. The advice was simple – hit the playbook.
“Once you know the plays, you don’t think as much and you play faster,” Wesley Tate said. “I have pretty good hands. It is just running routes and being precise. Playing in the SEC, you are playing against some of the fastest corners and safeties in the nation.”
Coaches approached him about the switch before preseason camp began nearly two weeks ago. Franklin wanted to move Tate out wide on certain plays, but primarily keep him at running back.
However, with the wide receiver corps not progressing as quickly as he would have liked – he had said only sophomore Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause were standing out – the first-year head coach made the switch.
So far, Franklin said Tate has adapted at a good pace.
“It is all new for him and he is a little cautious right now,” Franklin said after Wednesday’s practice. “Like I told him, the whole reason we moved him out there is so he could play fast, which is what he does better in space.”
Franklin hasn’t discounted the notion of Tate's return to the backfield, which is crowded with Zac Stacy, Warren Norman, Micah Powell, Jerron Seymour and Mitchell Hester. The way Tate sees it, though, he’ll be a wide receiver for the rest of the season – and maybe longer.
“[Franklin] said, ‘We feel like you can make plays out there in space because of your size and speed,” Wesley said. “Honestly, I was all for it, whatever is best for the team. ... Once I get the ball, I can just make moves in the field and also run past people. It is definitely an advantage.”