James Gates

Menomonie senior James Gates (33) is pictured here playing against Big Rivers Conference rival Rice Lake in September. Gates had four receptions for 119 yards during the game and stopped the Warriors’ first drive with a sack. Menomonie, ranked No. 5 in the state at the time, defeated Rice Lake 17-8 to improve its record to 5-0.

Brett Hart / Dunn County News

Two-time first team all-state linebacker James Gates gave a verbal commitment to play football for two-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State University recently. Gates has been offered a partial scholarship for his first year and full ride thereafter. The level of scholarship for his first year could vary depending his James’ playing time, but the initial plan is for him to redshirt his first year with a minimum half scholarship.

Gates, Menomonie’s all-time sack leader with 30 sacks, received interest from other DI schools including the University of Northern Iowa, University of North Dakota and University of Wisconsin, but chose NDSU based on the school’s recent success and opportunity for playing time.

Gates was just inches away from making it to the state title game his junior season, when his Mustangs lost 21-19 to eventual state champion Waunakee in the semifinals – a game where Gates had six tackles for losses, three sacks and forced a fumble. Then Gates led the Mustangs to a 7-0 start to the 2012 season before breaking his ankle in the second-to-last regular season game, putting a stop to his chance at redemption. But he said winning a national title with the Bison would take some of that sting away.

As impressive as Gates was as an outside linebacker, scoring three defensive touchdowns, Menomonie coach Joe La Buda said he was equally as impressive as a tight end. La Buda said, “He was a great receiving tight end with excellent hands and was also a very good blocking tight end.”

 “James is one of the best edge players to have ever played in the Big Rivers Conference,” La Buda added. “His extreme quickness and strength allowed him to be the dominant defensive player he is. He is a very dedicated athlete and a great person, and this is an incredible opportunity for him. It was very obvious to see what he meant to our team when we did not have him on the field at the end.

“He is perfect for the outside linebacker position in today’s college game with all the offense’s turning more to read option and jet motion, teams are looking for more athletic linebackers with great quickness.”

Looking forward to redshirting his first year, Gates said he will be able to absorb college life and get acclimated to the program. And with two starters leaving in front of him after next season, he’s looks forward even more to having a shot at starting in his second season.

His ankle injury has not been cause for much concern as he returned for his first varsity basketball game of the season on Friday against Eau Claire North. He will have screws removed from the ankle following the basketball season and plans return to the baseball diamond in the spring.

Gates joins elite company as one of a handful of Menomonie athletes to not only become a two-time first-team all-state selection but to sign a Division 1 college athletic scholarship. He says those honors make him feel special but not satisfied and he still yearns for the ultimate team title.

Gates will make his commitment official on National Signing Day on Feb. 6. And will have a chance to put his football skills on display again in July when he plays in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star Game in Oshkosh – where he is projected as a starting outside linebacker.

Note: Menomonie’s last football player to sign a Division 1 scholarship was Jon Heimler, who signed with the University of North Dakota in 2008.

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