Hill will get a chance to see how good a football player Gates
has become with San Diego when the Oakland Raiders host the
Chargers on Sunday.
"He was definitely a better basketball player," Hill said this
week. "He was known all across the state for basketball. ... He's
been an athlete since his days in high school, and was the big
basketball star in the state of Michigan.
"He's a good friend of mine. I look forward to going out there
and challenging him. It will take me back to my high school days."
Now Gates just might be the best tight end in the NFL. Hill and
Gates, who played against each other in high school and were
briefly teammates at Michigan State, will see plenty of each other
Hill, who joined the Raiders as a safety after four years in
Arizona, could be matched up at times with Gates in their first
meeting as professionals.
"Oh man, it's crazy," Gates said. "We literally played
against each other. We're both from the west side. He was always
good. He had some injuries and stuff when he was in Phoenix, so he
hasn't been playing as well as I know he can play. But I know he
There figures to be a bit of trash talking from these old
buddies from Chadsey (Hill) and Central (Gates) high schools, as
there is both neighborhood and AFC West pride on the line.
"I'm going to at least sit down and talk with him and let him
know he's in for a long night," Gates said. "It's all fun and
games, we all like to have fun. I want to win. So he understands,
it's not personal. It's all business."
Gates had a winding road to becoming an NFL star. He started his
college career hoping to be a two-sport star for coaches Nick Saban
and Tom Izzo at Michigan State. But Saban didn't want Gates to play
basketball, leading him to transfer to Eastern Michigan.
"I think Saban was going to move Antonio to linebacker," Hill
said. "That might have been a mistake right there. Somebody
finally got him in the right position."
After a brief stay at Eastern Michigan, Gates transferred to the
College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., before ending up at
Kent State. Gates averaged 20.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for
the Golden Flashes, leading them to the regional final of the NCAA
tournament in 2003.
Going undrafted in the NBA, Gates tried out for the NFL and
signed as a free agent with the Chargers, quickly developing into a
star. He was an All-Pro last season with 81 receptions for 964
yards and 13 touchdowns, an NFL record for scores by a tight end.
None of that has come as a surprise to Hill.
"He was an athlete from the days back then. You could just see
his talent shine through in whatever he did, whether it was
basketball or football," Hill said. "I'm sure he's stronger and
faster now so it definitely will be different for me seeing him
from high school to now. It will be fun."
It will the second straight week Gates has matched up with a
friend from Detroit, a city that is known more for producing
basketball players. He went up against Pittsburgh linebacker Larry
Foote on Monday and now gets Hill.
"You know what, it has really opened up the doors for guys
coming, the young guys in Detroit, because we were a basketball
state," Gates said. "Michigan is known for basketball. It's kind
of fun to see guys now in the NFL, representing Michigan."
AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this