By Mark S. McDonald, undocumented UTEP expert
CAMP RUIDOSO — First time I saw Derron Gatewood, he was playing guard – and quite well, thank you – for Odessa Permian High School. As an aging Midland Lee castoff from the leather-helmet days, it felt awkward calling the UTEP football office with such a glowing field report.
Me: “Coach, I saw a guy last Friday night I think can play D-1 football.”
Coach: “Oh, really? Mark, who was it?”
Me: “A kid named Gatewood. Plays guard at Permian.”
Coach: “Good eye, McDonald. We already offered him (a scholarship).”
Fast forward to earlier this week. The high school kid I spotted that night is now hovering over two other UTEP offensive linemen, as they run in place, dive on the practice field grass, jump to their feet. Repeat. Do it once more, and the two under Gatewood’s watchful eye are sucking the cool New Mexico mountain air.
Only makes sense. One of the most experienced players in all of college football, Gatewood is not only large (6-3, 305), but he is in charge.
This is the blocker who was described by a teammate as “better than the center I faced against Texas.” That was back in 2017.
The Derron Gatewood Journey
- 2014 – Coach Sean Kugler’s second recruiting class. Redshirt.
- 2015 – Redshirt freshman, started one game.
- 2016 – RS soph, started full-time.
- 2017 – RS junior, started full-time.
- 2018 – Injured in pre-season, granted sixth season.
- 2019 – To start opener later this month.
Entering his sixth season, thanks to special exemption from the NCAA after a broken leg cost him all of what would have been his senior year, Gatewood was delivering a “reminder:” The two gasping linemen are freshmen, learning from No. 65 that nobody shows up late for team meetings, even if you were a high school hotshot.
So what we Miners forever have here is exactly what our rebuilding team needs from a veteran with 24 career starts – leadership. Teammates could do worse than to follow Gatewood’s example, on the field and off. In no particular order, Derron has:
- Earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology;
- Married his high school sweetheart, Rylee;
- Earned his master’s in leadership;
- Grown into his size 15 shoes by earning campus-wide respect.
When Derron Gatewood talks UTEP, he speaks from the inside out, from a base of wisdom borne out of experience. His words are worthy of our ears:
On UTEP’s prospects for 2019:
“We’re better. I think we will be better. I’m looking forward to it. I know our O-line is much, much better.”
On the quarterback competition:
“Brandon (Jones) looks like he will be the starter. He is becoming more of a leader now. The guys behind him are getting better, too. I think we will have a good QB rotation.”
On shiny newcomers up front, freshman lineman:
“Two guys are really looking good – Justin Mayers (from Frisco Reedy) and Andrew Meyer (from San Marcos, Calif.). Those two guys are going to be good. Real good. They have a lot of potential.
Gatewood’s message on punctuality must have stuck.
“Today …” he said with a smile that would light up a mine shaft, “everybody was five minutes early.”
Next: What you should know from the quarterback room
McDonald is a UTEP journalism grad and two-year letterman in football. His teammates wonder if he was really on the team. For his latest book on the collision of American culture, football and reality in 1969, visit <BeyondTheShootout.com>.