Teammates rave about Tate's leadership skills

Carmen Valencia | The Daily Wildcat An emotional Khalil Tate walks off the field after the UA-USC game. USC beat Arizona 49-35.

No football statistic may be more telling of Khalil Tate’s importance to his team than the fact Tate was second in the Pac-12 Conference in both passing efficiency — besting two top 10 NFL Draft picks in Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen — and in yards-per-rush, which topped Heisman runner-up Bryce Love. 

Tate will be relied on heavily once again for his dual-threat offensive production, but a characteristic that isn’t measured is perhaps what the Wildcats will lean on most of all.

“Khalil is the leader of the team,” senior wide receiver Shun Brown said. “He’s just the spokesman of the team.” 

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Tate didn’t begin the 2017 season as the team’s quarterback or leader. But an opportunity presented itself after former UA quarterback Brandon Dawkins went down with an injury against Colorado on Oct. 7. When Tate entered the game as an 18-year-old sophomore, he went in and ran with his opportunity, literally, breaking the FBS single-game rushing record. 

Nearly a year later, Tate’s presence in the huddle is a mainstay one for the Wildcats, and his teammates have sensed his growth. 

“[Tate’s] more vocally sound,” running back J.J. Taylor said. “That helps out a lot when you have somebody right next to you when you’re down go ‘pick it up, pick it up, push through it you’re almost done.’”

Arizona quaterback Khalil Tate runs past Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) during the UA-ASU rivalry game on Nov. 25 at Sun Devil Stadium.

“He’s improved his leadership by 100 times,” offensive lineman Layth Friekh said. “I think now that Khalil is the man, he steps up big time. He’s leading the offense better, even in the locker room and off the field.”

Tate’s teammates are only confirming what the quarterback spent the off-season practicing. Besides learning the new offensive system under Noel Mazzone and working on his throwing mechanics, the Inglewood, CA native said that one of his main focuses this summer was to improve the way he takes charge of the team.

“That’s what all good teams need. Teams that don’t do well, they don’t have that strong leadership,” Tate said.

It’s somewhat uncommon for a college football junior to be as young as Tate is at 19 years old. When Arizona opens its season against Brigham Young University, Tate’s counterpart will be the Cougars' 24-year-old senior Tanner Mangum. 

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But don’t tell Tate that age matters when it comes to comes to being the face of a program.

“I like to think I’m kind of wise, I like to think I have a lot of knowledge,” Tate said. “There are a lot of [high school] seniors that are 19 and I’m about to graduate in the next year or so.”

Expectations of being a Heisman candidate and one of the best quarterbacks in the country can be heavy burdens to bear. Yet, Head Coach Kevin Sumlin said Tate will be fine if he continues to stay the course and be himself.

Arizona Quarterback Khalil Tate looks for a teammate to pass to during the UA-Washington State game on Saturday, October 28.

“He’s gotta understand situational football. He’s gotta be accurate when he throws it,” Sumlin said. “And then, he’s gotta have some leadership skills and not let things affect him — not get too high when things are going great and, when things aren’t looking great, he’s gotta maintain that.”

Tate said it plainly himself, noting how teams struggle without good leadership. His leadership skills will be be part of the cornerstone that Arizona depends on this year, as well as his football abilities.

In less than 12 months Tate has gone from a backup quarterback to starter and one of the team’s most trusted faces. Now let’s see how the next 12 months fare.

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