Vodrey Gates possesses a rare combination of skill and will that build up a coach’s reputation.
For example, said his Valley Vista football coach Josh Sekoch, there was what goes in the books as a two-yard touchdown run Sept. 30 against Yuma Cibola. The play was intended as a jet sweep to Gates, but after a fumbled snap Gates picked up the ball with one hand on the dead run and scored.
Then, despite leading the Raiders 35-34 in the final two minutes and running up the middle to chew the clock deep in their own territory, Gates convinced Monsoon coaches he could get open at any time as Cibola was preoccupied with stuffing the run.
So on third down Reyes Lara threw to Gates in the slot and he burst past the flat-footed defense for the decisive touchdown.
“He took it 90 yards. We look like geniuses,” Coach Sekoch said.
The statistics are eye popping. Eight touchdowns and 464 yards on 19 catches. Three carries for two more touchdowns. Two punt returns of more than 65 yards for touchdowns.
Then there’s this number — zero. That is the number of scholarships offered to this dynamo.
That discrepancy is almost solely due to a final set of numbers — 5-6, 140 pounds.
Admittedly, that is small, even for a high school playmaker. Gates is used to being slighted because of his size. It is what fuels him.
“Honestly it makes me a better person. I go out there and anybody can underestimate me. I just do what I have to do. It’s just motivation,” Gates said.
Gates transferred to Valley Vista from Dysart High in the second semester of his freshman year — for academic reasons first, he said. Under the rules at that time, he had to sit out his sophomore year.
Coach Sekoch kept hearing about the sophomore’s skills from his players. The year off helped he and his staff formulate ways to use such a unique player.
Quickly, getting Gates quality touches while reducing the quantity of touches became the goal. Even like for a coaching staff used to deploying undersized playmakers, this was a unique challenge.
“We’ve never had a guy like this. He’s 5-6. The sense he has for the game is something you don’t coach,” Coach Sekoch said.
He settled into the slot role during 2015, his first season with the Monsoon. Gates led the team with 43 catches and 605 yards.
But this year he has nearly tripled his number of receiving touchdowns and bumped his yards per catch from 14.1 to 24.2.
“Being a receiver is fun. Being a back makes you tougher, but you can do a lot of things at the slot position.” Gates said. “Our wide receiver coach is great and he’s been helping all of us out. I feel like our whole receiving corps is great.”
Gates also enjoys this year more because a young group of varsity player in 2015 has come into its own. The Monsoon started that season 2-5 before winning their last three.
Nine returning offensive starters were determined to carry on that momentum.
‘We felt we could get even better than last year. We felt like we should have made the playoffs but we started out bad. Finishing good late in the season helped early this season. We knew we had talent and just had to put it together,” Gates said.
Yet Valley Vista seemed on the edge of an unimpressive 0-2 start after falling 43-21 to Mesa Mountain View in the opener. Then the Monsoon pushed a top 10 Mesa Skyline team to the brink before falling 24-21.
“We felt like we had talent at all levels. We said we want to have a great season, get into the playoffs and see what happens from there,” Gates said. “We felt if we could compete with (Skyline) we could compete with almost anybody in the state.
The team has won five? straight since. With Gates seeming to sprinkle in a big play in each games.
Coach Sekoch said his senior is faster and more elusive with the pads on than he is on the track. With that speed comes some danger since he believes every play can go to the house.
“It’s kind of an adventure on punt returns because he wants to return every punt,” Coach Sekoch said.
Gates said he would like to study broadcast journalism in college and hopes for a chance from a Division II, NAIA or junior college team to keep playing.
But now his focus is with a team that’s taken on his personality — a team that also is overlooked.
“He hates to lose, even in passing league. He’s ultra competitive,” Coach Sekoch said.