Gatewood hopes to represent VU proudly

Curtis Gatewood (VandyMania / B. Wiseman)

Linebacker Curtis Gatewood of Memphis is thrilled to be playing for the Tennessee All-Stars on Friday-- but the Vanderbilt signee says he's less than thrilled about having to wear an orange jersey in order to do so. The Volunteer State's finest high school seniors take on the Kentucky All-Stars Friday evening at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, and Gatewood gave VandyMania this inside look at the team's preparations in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE-- Before he ever suits up in black and gold, Vanderbilt football signee Curtis Gatewood will have to wear orange-- a prospect about which he's less than thrilled.

As a member of the Tennessee All-Stars-- preparing this week at the University of Tennessee's facilities for a Friday game against the Kentucky All-Stars-- the 6-3, 215-pound linebacker will represent his home state in an orange uniform, the traditional color for the Tennessee team. (The Kentucky All-Stars wear blue.)

"Awwww, man!" moans Gatewood good-naturedly in the Neyland Stadium locker room. "I walked in here and I was like, Man! I do not want to be here. I'm a Commodore! I do not want to be here with all this orange. Give me some black and gold!"

The annual summer border war showcases the top talent from the Volunteer and Bluegrass States. Under Murfreesboro-Riverdale coach Gary Rankin, the Tennessee team is taking its preparations for the game extremely seriously. The Tennesseans have been undergoing a grueling regimen of two-a-day practices in full pads under the intense summer sun.

Gatewood, who just graduated from White Station High School and plans to major in engineering at Vanderbilt, is the only Commodore signee on the Tennessee roster.

"It's been tough, real tough," said Gatewood of the practice sessions. "It's the first time in a while I've been in full pads.

"Two-a-days was kind of shocking. But after we found out we were going to do two-a-days, we kind of cooled on it."

Rankin and the defensive coaches plan to utilize Gatewood at outside linebacker, where he will line up next to Tennessee signee Daniel Brooks of Jackson-Central Merry. The two linebackers, who will play for cross-state rivals in college, have hit it off in practice this week.

Asked about individuals who have stood out in practices so far, Gatewood named one offensive player and one defensive player. "Abe Felix [tailback from Houston High School, Northeast Mississippi Junior College signee] is playing pretty good," said Gatewood. "On defense, [Daniel] Brooks looks great."

The game also showcases future SEC players like Tennessee signee Brad Cottam (Evangelical Christian); Auburn signees King Dunlap (Brentwood Academy), Kody Bliss (Brentwood Academy) and Carl Stewart (Maryville); Ole Miss signees Patrick Willis (Bruceton Central) and Terrance Houston (Hillsboro); and Arkansas signee Ivora Hall (Memphis-Hamilton).

"It's a fun atmosphere, because everyone here is on another level. It's really competitive, and it's bringing out my competitive drive too."

While some college coaches discourage their signees from playing in the game due to the risk of injury, Gatewood said that Commodore coaches encouraged him to take part, but to be cautious. One participant, MTSU signee Ty Goodrich of Union City, has already broken an ankle during Sunday's agility drills.

"[My Vanderbilt coaches] just told me to go out there and be careful," said Gatewood. "When I knew I was going, I told them about it, and they told me to just work out hard, get my muscles strong and get in shape, so that I can avoid injury. They told me that was what was really important."

The week's whirlwind-ish preparations on campus in Knoxville have given Gatewood an early dose of what it's like to be a real college athlete. Still, he looks forward to reporting to Vanderbilt when fall camp starts for real in August-- and for more reasons than just football.

"They're feeding me pretty good this week," Gatewood said. "Not as good as Vanderbilt... but pretty good."

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