Published 10:32 pm Monday, December 8, 2008
Senior Maurice Tate was officially named the 1A Lineman of the Year last week by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. The award, presented to the best offensive lineman, defensive lineman or linebacker in the classification, is the latest accolade presented to one of the most heralded players in the history of the Linden High program.
The Patriots had never sniffed an undefeated season, much less a state championship. In fact, the tiny community of Linden has long watched as its neighbors to the south, Sweet Water, assert 1A dominance.
But this year would be different for LHS. At least, that was the message conveyed by second-year head coach Andro Williams that would soon be echoed by his bell cow, Tate.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 225-pound Tate established himself early as the emotional leader of the Patriots.
“He’s one that’s going to bring everything to the table when he comes,” Williams said. “He helps the mentality of his peers by his focus. He’ll be one that I’ll always remember as a coach.”
He promised to live up to that role by entering the season with the notion that he would play every meaningful snap on both sides of the ball.
That order, while a tall one to fill, proved second nature to Tate, who can scarcely stand being on the sidelines.
“It’s just my passion for the game,” Tate said. “Every since I was even able to pick up a football, that’s been my sport. It made me feel good to know that (Williams) would depend upon me.”
The wrecking ball who thrives on physicality toted the ball 254 times for 2,343 yards and 42 touchdowns from his fullback position and recorded 146 total tackles, forced five fumbles, recovered three and drug down nine would-be passers from his middle linebacker spot. Add to that the fact that he returned his only interception for a touchdown and Tate put together one of the best seasons in the history of Alabama high school football.
Still, Tate is not without his critics. The customary knock on him is that he is too short to play linebacker and too slow to come out of the backfield at the next level.
“I laugh at stuff like that. That’s going to make me go even harder,” Tate said. “I like stuff like that. That just gives me even more fuel to the fire.”
“You can’t measure a man’s heart,” Williams said. “There’s no measure of the heart he brings to the game.”
Tate’s production fueled the Patriots to a 10-0 regular season and a semi-final playoff date with vaunted Sweet Water. While Linden fell short of a state title game slot with a 34-7 loss to the Bulldogs, Tate again put together another eye-popping day that included 16 tackles out of his linebacker spot in addition to 95 yards rushing against 1A’s best run defense.
The game, his last in a Linden uniform, proved the final chapter in a story he hopes the Patriot faithful remember fondly.
“I think they will say ‘That is the most hard-working, intelligent young man that I have ever been around.’ That is what I want them to say about me,” Tate, who prides himself on his trademark work ethic, said.