BOWIE — Derrick ‘Nico’ Tate’s hard work, heart, grit and determination has put him on track to creating perhaps one of the biggest success stories out of this year’s NFL prospects and rookies.
The former Bowie State football defensive end has been invited to participate in an Atlanta Falcons mini camp, which may lead to the possibility of him signing as an undrafted free agent.
For the Baltimore native, what began as a small journey has blossomed into a near-dream come true.
“It was an exciting moment. I still try to tell my family every day, it still hasn’t hit me yet. It still hasn’t hit me. Like, I think it’ll hit me once I get on the plane and I’m there,” Tate said.
Tate said that a Falcons scout contacted him three weeks prior to the NFL Draft expressing interest and letting him know that he “was still on their radar.” He said he was gathered with his family when he first received the official call from Atlanta a few minutes after they made their last pick, and was overcome with excitement.
In the immediate moments after notifying family, friends and the BSU campus community of his invite to the mini camp, Tate said he received overwhelming amounts of support and love.
“Everybody was motivated. My family, they’re happy and I can’t thank them enough for the love and the support through this whole journey because it wasn’t easy but I stuck through it and they stuck through it with me,” Tate said.
Furthermore, in a Facebook post from April 29, Tate wrote: “Want give thanks to the man above without him none of this is possible. To all my fans and supporters get ya guitars, ready baby we bringing the band to ATL Baby #11Reasons #unfinishedbusiness.”
In 2014, Tate graduated from Edmondson-Westside High School, where he was a standout outside linebacker and defensive end and led the team to an appearance in the regional finals of the state playoffs in 2013.
Edmondson-Westside football Head Coach Corey Johnson, now is in his sixth year as the head of the program, began his coaching career at Edmondson when Tate was a senior in the 2013 season. Amazingly, it took only one season for Tate to leave a lasting impression on Johnson.
“I was ecstatic. He called me Saturday thanking me for everything,” Johnson said of when he learned of Tate’s accomplishment.
Johnson characterized Tate as a “true leader.” Tate wasn’t too outspoken, said Johnson, but one thing was for sure: he was “going to outwork everybody.” Johnson said Tate’s relentlessness was reminiscent of former Baltimore Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary.
“It was all business. It was never anything about fame, or playing around, or playing games, or going out there for fun. He was all business,” Johnson said.
Following Tate’s senior season, he wasn’t highly recruited. Nor did he receive any collegiate offers, which impelled Johnson to drive Tate and a few of his teammates up to Troy, New York for a visit to Hudson Valley Community College, which later became the place Tate began his collegiate football career.
“It’s just one of those arduous journeys you look at and after his senior year in high school, he wasn’t a qualifier, so the thing was finding a JUCO for him to go to,” said Johnson, adding how impressed he was with Tate’s transformation throughout his college career and how he maintained a hard work ethic.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets into camp and he’s in the conversation for August for making the [53-man roster] because that’s how hard he works,” Johnson said.
“It’s tough to make it out of West Baltimore. And you think of the odds of a kid coming from West Baltimore and going the route that he did… It just speaks volumes.”
After graduating from Edmondson-Westside, Tate went on to Hudson Valley Community College to play at the linebacker and defensive end positions in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Even after two stellar seasons at HVCC, Tate was still overlooked by a number of elite collegiate programs, ending up with only one offer after his sophomore season.
At the time of his departure from junior college, Bowie State football was not where it is today. But he saw that it was an emerging program, considered the school’s proximity to his hometown, and saw it as an opportunity contribute to what he thought would become a top-tier Division II team.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder had to redshirt the 2016 season, then went on to make an immediate impact in the 2017 season. He amassed 58 tackles in 2018, 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, distinguishing himself as one of the leaders of the defensive unit to help Bowie State to a historical season, including helping lead the Bulldogs to their first-ever conference title in program history.
There weren’t any Falcons scouts in attendance at BSU’s Pro Day on March 27, but Tate said that scouts game kept an eye on him throughout the season, giving him feedback and constructive criticisms after a coming to few of Bowie’s games and practices.
“I obviously feel that I left a good impression but I think they saw that I have a motor,” Tate said. “I’m a leader. I’m going to give it my all, no matter what, like every play… You’re always going to get the best out of Derrick Tate no matter what.”
The Bulldogs finished in the season 10-3 in 2018 after losing to Valdosta State in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. He graduated from BSU in December 2018 and will walk in the university’s spring commencement on May 17.
Bowie State Football Coach Damon Wilson said he felt this momentous opportunity for Tate was well-deserved.
“I think the opportunity couldn’t have happened to a better individual,” Wilson said. “Derrick is a high-energy guy, a high-motor guy. He’s a guy that continually pressured the quarterback, was very good against the run as well. He’s a guy that displayed great leadership amongst the ball club and here on campus.”
Wilson said Tate’s natural ability to rush the passer, in addition to his high-motor style of play, was what likely caught the eye of Atlanta’s personnel.
“One thing I always tell everybody that this journey and everything is bigger than me,” Tate said. “I don’t do this just for me, I do this for the kids in the inner city where I come from – Baltimore, Maryland, it’s a rough city. I just want to be able to show the younger kids from my high school, from all the high schools in the inner city that it’s a way out.”
Tate will board a plane heading to Atlanta on May 9. As the mini camp approaches, he said he expects nothing to come easy and is all up for the challenge. He hopes that what he has accomplished has inspired other athletes from a similar background as himself.
“One message I always wanted to tell everybody, is you can do it. It’s possible,” he said. “No matter where you go, DI, DII, DIII, don’t believe the hype of ‘Oh, you gotta go DI.’ No, you go where you can play football at and play at a high level no matter what. No matter the adversity that comes your way.”
Tate, a second team All-CIAA selection, is embracing every step of his quest of making it to football’s premier league. As he has throughout his football career, he plans to make the most out this forthcoming opportunity.
“This is only the beginning, this is not the end. This is definitely only the beginning.”