The 90 Illini #37: Deon Pate
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At one point I didn't think there was much chance for Deon Pate to stick around with the program. We saw five guys suspended for three games at the beginning of the 2018 season, and later that year, three of them transferred. Well, two of them were kicked off the team (Bennett Williams and Louis Dorsey) and a third left on his own (Carmoni Green). Nate Hobbs returned to the starting lineup after his suspension was up, so you knew he'd stick around, but I kind of expected Pate to follow the path of the others. With an 0-2 count, it's tough to battle back and at least earn a walk.
So kudos to Deon Pate for doing just that. Overcame the suspension, earned the coaches trust again, and played a fair bit at the end of the 2018 season and during the 2019 season. Especially on third down/passing situations. The defensive tackles on the big third down play against Wisconsin (Tony Adams' INT)? Jamal Milan and Deon Pate.
37. Deon Pate
Uniform number: 98
Year in school: Junior (2 years to play 2; with the Covid rule, technically 3 to play 3)
Height: 6'-2" -- Weight: 280 lbs.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
High School: Trinity Christian Academy
Five best offers: Rutgers, Appalachian State, Colorado State, Southern Miss, Troy
Tom Cruise rating: 2 Cruises
2019 statistics: Played in 9 games, 7 tackles.
He was originally an Appalachian State commit. He got the Illinois offer and flipped the final weekend before signing day in February 2017. He was then one of only three freshmen to redshirt in that class. The other two: Kendrick Green and Lere Oladipo.
Then, just as he enters his redshirt freshman year, a three-game suspension. But then he battled back from that, made his debut in the second Big Ten game, and played the final eight games. Even started the Iowa game in 2018 (you know, that one).
Last year he played in 9 of the 13 games with 7 tackles. For the most part (at least how I remember it), he was the "when we need a pass rush from a defensive tackle" guy. He didn't hang in there the best against the run, but in passing situations, he could provide pressure, so that's mostly when he was used.
The next step, obviously, is to be more of an every-down defensive tackle. Some guys are just run stuffers so that becomes their only role. Some guys can provide pressure in a rush-four, drop-seven scenario and that's when they find themselves in the game. The guys who can do it all are the guys who start.
Those two guys this season, I think: Jamal Woods and Roderick Perry. But the third and fourth spots in the rotation are wide open, I think. Is it Calvin Avery starting to live up to his 4-star status? Is it Deon Pate? Is it juco transfer Anthony Shipton. Is it redshirt freshman Moses Okpala? Is it one of the true freshmen?
Ideally, the backups are Avery (ready to be more than just a run stuffer) and Pate (ready to be more than just a pass rusher). You want the third-year guy and the fourth-year guy to be the ones stepping up (while the underclassmen start to gain their footing). So those three juniors (Shipton, Pate, and Avery) will be very important for a defensive line that will likely rotate five guys.
So this outlook is easy: year four for Pate - time to take a big step forward.