FIU football coach Butch Davis discusses the fall season
The FIU Panthers 2019 football season, which opens Thursday night in New Orleans against Tulane, could be another roller-coaster ride … which would suit Jamal Gates just fine.
Gates, a 6-2, 235-pound starting outside linebacker for FIU, wouldn’t mind being around the real roller coasters every day.
“Ten to 15 years from now, I want to own a security company,” said Gates, a criminal justice major. “But 30 to 40 years from now, I want to own an amusement park.
“I just love roller coasters. I love having fun. My favorite one is at Six Flags [Over Georgia]. One of these days, I’m going to go skydiving. I don’t know when, but I’m going to do it.”
In the meantime, Gates will try to get his thrill-seeking done on the field. After playing just four games with no starts as a freshman, Gates played all 13 games last year, helping 9-4 FIU set the program record for wins.
Gates made 36 tackles, sprinkling in a few big plays here and there. He had one interception, one forced fumble and one tackle for loss, and more is expected of him this season.
“Jamal is continuing to grow, taking a more active role in [meetings] and understanding what we’re trying to do,” said Jeff Copp, FIU’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. “He’s growing into a playmaker.”
FIU would love for Gates to make some plays against the Tulane Green Wave, who finished 7-6 last season, winning five of their final six games, including a 41-24 Cure Bowl victory over Louisiana.
The Green Wave also beat two other bowl teams last season: Memphis and South Florida.
Ironically, Tulane might be the school that recruited Gates the hardest out of Dwyer High in Palm Beach Gardens.
As an undersized 215-pound prep defensive end, Gates had 22 sacks his final two years at Dwyer. As a senior, he also had 30 tackles for losses, including 12 sacks, and several universities where recruiting him as a linebacker.
“Tulane came to the house the most,” said Jamal’s father, Kenneth Gates. “[Tulane linebackers coach] Mike [Mutz] came to the house three times, and he would sit there with us all day.”
Kenneth Gates, who was a 6-0, 240-pound backup linebacker at Mississippi State in his playing days, said his son took a visit to Tulane and “didn’t like it.”
Syracuse actually handed Jamal Gates his first offer. FAU and South Florida were also in contention, and, just one week before signing day, the entire Colorado State flew in to visit him, according to his father.
The 21-year-old Gates — the youngest of four children and the only athlete — is happy with his decision to play for FIU, where he lines up next to middle linebacker Sage Lewis, who is Conference USA’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s our rock,” Copp said of Lewis.
Added Gates: “Sage is a smart football player. It’s great to learn from him.”
Gates said he “got a lot of coaching” growing up, which is a reference to his father’s guidance. Kenneth Gates said he was a harder hitter than his son, but Jamal is more athletic.
An example of Jamal’s athleticism is that he started dunking a basketball on a 10-foot rim as a smallish eighth-grader. As for Kenneth’s strength, let him tell you:
“I broke a guy’s facemask one time with a hard hit.”
Both father and son are dealing with diabetes. Kenneth has type 2 diabetes, and Jamal was diagnosed last year with type 1.
“It was a tough time for me,” Jamal Gates said of his diagnosis. “I was shocked, but, then again, I wasn’t because my dad has it, and it may have been in the genes.
“I give myself [an insulin] shot every day before I eat.”
Coping with diabetes has been made easier by the 100 or so buddies he has on the FIU squad.
“My teammates helped me, and i pushed through,” Gates said. “I just take it on the chin — live with it and move on.”