There's not a day that goes by that Kenarious Gates doesn't stop and give Da'Rick Rogers a word of thanks.
Much was made of Rogers' last-minute decision two years ago to spurn Georgia for Tennessee, but what it did was open the door for the Bulldogs to sign Gates - who today is an integral part of Georgia's offensive line.
Had he not, Gates' jersey color Saturday in Sanford Stadium would have been white with blue trim, as the young sophomore was committed to Kentucky before former Bulldog assistant Stacy Searels made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
"I thank God I got the offer," Gates said. "I didn't care if it was the last minute, early or whenever, it was on time and I thank Coach (Mark) Richt for the opportunity he gave me."
Still, Gates knew he had to do the responsible thing and let Wildcat coach Joker Phillips know of his decision.
"I was kind of nervous at first, but I called, we talked and he was just in shock. He said he'd have to call me back but he never called me back," Gates said. "I just know I made the right decision. I made the best decision for me and my family. I'm glad I came here."
So are the Bulldogs.
After starting four games as a true freshman, Gates overcame some injuries earlier this year to become one of the team's more versatile offensive linemen, with the ability to play either guard or tackle for position coach Will Friend.
Gates said that the Monday morning following Rogers' announcement, his former coaches at Greenville High were dropping him hints that an offer might be coming his way.
But it wasn't until around 10 p.m. that night when Gates received the call he had always hoped for.
"I was at home, it was 10 on Monday night, me and my mom were watching TV and we got the call. It was Coach Searels. I was surprised. He was talking to me, saying he had a scholarship waiting on me and asked what I wanted to do," Gates said. "So I talked to my mom - we had like a five or 10-minute talk and she asked if this was what I wanted to do and I said yeah."
Considering Gates had always been a Georgia fan growing up, there wasn't a lot that he needed to consider.
"I used to wake up every Saturday morning ready to see what Georgia was going to do as a kid," Gates said. "I always wanted to play football for my home state and I felt this was where I needed to be. I wanted to be home."
Being able to remain close to former high school coach Jeremy Williams also played into Gates' decision.
Gates is one of many who has been inspired by Williams, whose battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), was the background for a documentary titled "Season of a Lifetime."
Williams resigned from his position at Class A Greenville High back in July, but Gates said he would not be where he is today if not for the coach he said believed in him when nobody else would.
"Seeing what he's going through, it just motivates me. All through high school, even though he had this disease, it always pushed me to be my best," Gates said. "There might be days when I don't feel so good, then I think of him and how strong he's been. He's made me strong and I thank him for that."
But just because he's no longer coaching and the disease is taking its toll, Williams still gives Gates some tips from time to time.
"He's always telling me, 'you should have that block,'" Gates smiled. "I tell him 'yeah Coach, I should have.' But no, he's just so proud of me and I love him for that. He's still my coach to this day, still giving me pointers. That's why I love him."
In return, Gates tries to give back to the small community located approximately 60 miles southwest of Atlanta every opportunity he gets.
"It's great. Every time I go back home, I hear from people how proud they are. We've got a lot of Georgia fans in Greenville and there are so many young people who look up to me, so when I go back I try to go to the high school, the middle school and talk to the kids," Gates said. "They all ask my autograph and things like that. I just tell them to keep working hard, and their opportunities will come, too."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]