Dec. 27, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - If you're looking for a student-athlete who epitomizes the Stanford experience, look no further than Corey Gatewood. You won't find his name on the Stanford football team's two-deep depth chart , but he gets his uniform dirty every game and is the ultimate team player.
"Corey Gatewood is tremendously talented," said Derek Mason, Associate Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator for the Cardinal. "He can cover, he can hit and he can run. We definitely feel good about what he can do."
Gatewood, a fifth-year senior, has shuffled between wide receiver, running back and cornerback his entire career. It hasn't been easy for the 5-foot-11, 182-pounder, who was rated the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in Massachusetts and ranked among the top 50 receiving prospects in the country by Rivals.com when he enrolled at Stanford in 2007.
"I kind of had that in the back of my mind," the versatile Gatewood said of his switch to defense. "I was going to do whatever it takes to find the fastest way to the field. That happened to be at cornerback - they asked me as soon as I got here. I tried to make hay, get on the field and did what they asked me to do."
As a freshman, Gatewood appeared in 11 games, the majority on defense, and also saw time at running back. He played in only one game as a sophomore, earning an extra year of eligibility, then played in 10 games as a junior, recording six starts and 28 tackles, and returned an interception for a touchdown against San Jose State. Last year, he appeared in nine games at cornerback and on special teams. Late in the season, he was moved to wide receiver and was projected to play there this season.
While Gatewood has one reception for 22 yards, most of his playing time has come as a reserve cornerback and on special teams. He has made eight tackles, defensed four passes and has one interception.
"I've bounced around a little bit," he said. "I was able to contribute a little bit at running back and had a big catch against Colorado. I did some things at wide receiver, but I would have liked to have had more production."
Gatewood has one more opportunity when fourth-ranked Stanford tackles third-ranked Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2. The Cowboys feature the No. 1 wide receiver in the country in junior Justin Blackmon, who has 113 catches for 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"There's a lot I want to show in this game," said Gatewood. "I want it to represent all the hard work we have put in this year. There's no way to better culminate all of that than against Oklahoma State in a big BCS game."
How do you stop Blackmon?
"I don't think anybody has shut him down," Gatewood said. "Iowa State and Kansas did some good things against him. But he's a great player and he's going to find a way to contribute. The best thing to do is just try to contain him."
Gatewood figures to get his chances against Blackmon and pass-happy OSU.
"He's always trying to figure out a way so he can contribute to this team and, when he is out on the field, make plays," said senior free safety Michael Thomas. "He wants to get out there and be a factor. He's a game-changer and definitely gives us that spark."
In addition to memorizing two playbooks - offense and defense - Gatewood also found the time to complete his degree in human biology.
"I'm going to apply to medical school once I'm done playing football," he said. "That will be the next phase of my life. I had some long nights here getting through medical classes, but I've been able to do that, along with my success in football. I'm going to ride this wave and see how far it takes me. I'd love to go into orthopedics."
Gatewood also speaks fluent Chinese.
"In high school, I took a trip to China and spent some time there," said Gatewood. "We studied the language prior to going and that allowed us to immerse ourselves in the culture and really tighten up our Chinese."
Gatewood has continued studying the language at Stanford, but with football and pre-med classes, hasn't been able to study abroad.
"None of my teammates speak Chinese, so it's hard to keep practicing," he said.
Gatewood's best memories of Stanford football are beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season; beating USC and Cal his freshman year; and the triple-overtime victory against USC this year. Upsetting Oklahoma State would add to the list.
Gatewood has no regrets about coming to Stanford. In fact, he wouldn't change a thing.
"Anything that's worth fighting for is going to have its hardships, so I just kind of looked at the process and knew if I just worked and chipped away, eventually I would see the fruits of my labor," Gatewood said.
He credits Mason and his teammates for helping him with the transition from offense to defense.
"Our offense is pretty intricate and we try to do a lot of things on defense," he said. "Coach Mason really simplified it for me and made me focus on the things I need to focus on so I could play fast. We also have senior leadership with Thomas and strong safety Delano Howell, which really helped."
Thomas said Gatewood is a quick study.
"He's just one of those guys that dissects things swiftly," he said. "I didn't have to break everything down for him. He was able to pick up things fast and run with it."
Mason admits the constant shuffling of positions created uncertainty with Gatewood. "He wasn't exactly trusting of what we were doing," said Mason. "He sort of resisted, like maybe he wanted to go to the other side of the ball on offense. I encouraged him to go where you're going to feel happy, because wherever you feel happy is where you're going to play your best ball."
"There's a lot I want to show in this game. I want it to represent all the hard work we have put in this year."
Once Gatewood realized how important he was to the defense, his play improved dramatically.
"He was a different guy," Mason said. "The hour glass was moving. I think he felt a sense of urgency that he could really contribute on this side of the ball, and he took off like gangbusters."
Mason has no doubts that Gatewood will get a chance to play at the next level in the NFL.
"I think Corey is talented enough to play on after all of this is said and done," said Mason. "He's come full circle and grown up. He realizes it's never too late."
When Gatewood arrived at Stanford, the team was coming off a 1-11 season and Jim Harbaugh had taken over as head coach. Gatewood wasn't sure what to expect, but is glad he stuck it out.
"The senior class came in here and took a leap of faith," said Gatewood. "We came in with the mentality to work hard and try to turn the program around. We knew we had the talent to get it done, and then the coaching staff molded us into the type of players we wanted to become, and we were able to do something special here."
Stanford finished 4-8 in 2007, 5-7 in 2008, 8-5 in 2009 and then had a breakthrough season in 2010, going 12-1. What was Harbaugh's secret?
"It was a combination of things," Gatewood said. "He came from the NFL, so we respected where he came from and what he was trying to do here. At that point, we were freshmen and didn't know how to play. He came in and told us how to play and we just believed him. We knew he'd lead us to the place we wanted to go."
David Shaw, The Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach, succeeded Harbaugh and has guided the Cardinal to an 11-1 mark.
"Any head coaching job is a tough task," said Gatewood. "Coach Shaw has done a tremendous job. He came in with a whole lot of pressure and I think he was able to step up to the challenge."
Gatewood is particularly grateful of playing in front of sellout crowds this year at Stanford Stadium. That wasn't the case during his first few seasons on the Farm.
"That was amazing," he said. "To come here and see the fans' spirit and see how electrifying it is, you come out on the field and it gets your juices flowing. I know our players love playing in front of a lot of people."
Although Stanford is a long way from home, Gatewood has thrived in the environment.
"The most interesting thing to me are the students, faculty and professors," said Gatewood. "They are all amazing people. I had fellow classmates who were writing textbooks; I had professors who were working on cures for cancer and solving issues with heart disease.
Everybody was doing something positive and successful."
By Mark Soltau
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