Tennessee Tech WR Krys Cates had a breakout game against Mercer. (Courtesy Tony Marable/Tennessee Tech Athletics)

Tennessee Tech WR Krys Cates reaching new heights after injury

Tennessee Tech head coach Watson Brown has a luxury a lot of college coaches don’t have. Six of his Golden Eagle wide receivers are 6-2 or taller.

Every once in a while Brown calls on that advantage.

“It happened this past weekend against Mercer,” said Tech wideout Krys Cates.

With a five-point lead and 1:47 left in the game, Brown lined Tech up for a 2-point conversion.

Golden Eagle quarterback Jared Davis floated a pass up high to Cates hoping the 6-3 redshirt junior would go up and get the ball against Mercer’s shorter defensive back.

“That’s not one of our (scripted) plays,” said Cates. "Coach said ‘Use your athletic ability to make a play.’”

“We knew they probably were going to double him,” Brown said. “We said ‘We don't care. Just throw it up to him and left him go get it.’ He’s got great jumps.”

The redshirt junior made the play giving Tech a seven-point cushion, 29-22. The game-winning touchdown before to the conversion was also compliments of Cates. Cates, a native of Newport, Tenn., caught seven passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, all career-highs. In doing so Cates was named the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week.

Running plays that 7-year olds draw up in the backyard rarely results in touchdowns though. Knowing the play book, giving maximum effort in practice, running precise routes, making a commitment in the weight room and staying healthy does.

Cates’ commitment in the weight room while redshirting last year with an injury turned him into a versatile downfield threat for the Golden Eagles passing attack.

After a four-catch campaign as a true freshman, Cates started 11 games in 2013. His 390 receiving yards and 28 receptions that year led the Golden Eagles. Looking forward to a breakout season, Cates unfortunately broke his ankle twice during team workouts leading up to the 2014 season.

“The first time I got it casted up without trying to have surgery,” Cates said. “I come back out the first day of spring practice and rebroke it. Had to have surgery. We weren't even in pads; we were in shorts.”

Granted a medical redshirt, Cates found out that not being able to suit up can actually be a positive.

“Sitting out has its ups and down,” Cates said. “It stressed me out because I felt like I was letting (the team) down. It allowed me to concentrate on things I needed to do to be a better player and a better person though.”

The Athletic Performance Center on campus became Cates’ new home while recovering. Tech’s strength and conditioning coach Casey Kramer scripted a weight lifting routine for Cates to follow.

“I stayed in the weight room as much as possible,” Cates said. “My mindset was to get two lifts in a day; one on the morning and another while the team was practicing. While they were doing their work on the practice field, I had to do mine. I didn’t want to fall behind. I needed to be up to speed when I returned.”

Kramer’s lifting program for Cates was a combination of Olympic lifts, over lifting, chest exercises and squats once his ankle was strong enough to bear weight. The power clean and lift became Cates' favorite. He’s seen two distinct benefits from it: primarily it helps with his first-step explosion off the ball and also giving him strength to block.

It took a couple of games for Cates to get back into a rhythm. He had just two receptions for 18 yards in the first two games this season. Against Mercer though Cates announced his presence from the very beginning at the request of Brown. Second play of the game, Cates ran a post route for a 74-yard touchdown.

“I brought Krys into my office this week and told him I wanted him to be that go-to guy on the outside to help us,” Brown said. It paid off when fellow receiver Brock McCoin suffered a slight concussion early in the second quarter and Cates stepped up.

“What a heck of game he had and he did it at the right time too.”

Above: Tennessee Tech WR Krys Cates had a breakout game against Mercer. (Courtesy Tony Marable/Tennessee Tech Athletics)

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