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Chargers' Gates is 30, Going on 27

Tight end in physical, mental prime

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers jumps into the endzone to score a touchdwon in front of Sean Considine #37 and Russell Allen #50 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on September 19, 2010 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Antonio Gates wants a retraction. His birth certificate is wrong.

    Next to his name, printed on a rectangular sheet of paper, the document lists his birthdate as June 18, 1980. That would make him 30 years old, and that can't be right.

    Not with how good he feels.

    The Chargers tight end is 30 years old asterisk. He's in his eighth year in the NFL but.

    “My 30 is like a 27-, 26-year-old guy in this league,” said Gates, who bypassed a college football career to star in basketball at Kent State. “Most of these guys when they get to their seventh year, their sixth year, they've played at least 10 years of football in a row, and that's not the case for me. I haven't played a total of 10 years of football, period.”

    That makes Gates a perfect 30. He has the awareness and experience of a long-time veteran, but his body is still in its prime.

    With much credit to that combination, Gates is off to a fast start this season. He has 10 receptions for 133 yards and three touchdowns, the most touchdowns he's ever had through the first two games of a season.

    Steadily, he maintains his ascent up the all-time lists.

    On Sunday, Gates can claim sole possession of second place for most touchdowns all-time by a tight end. His 62 career scores currently tie him with Shannon Sharpe and slot him behind Tony Gonzalez, two likely future Hall of Famers.

    “It's so far-fetched for me to even consider such things as greatest of all-time, Hall of Famer,” Gates said, “because I feel like I have so much football left. It's just trying to consume all the positive reinforcement and keep playing at a high level.”

    Gates finds the game has slowed down over the years, and his approach to it has changed, too.

    Before, he said he used to run around like a rabbit. Now, he monitors when the right time is to run at 80 percent speed and when to go the full 100.

    Those distinctions are based on his understanding of the game. He has a better grasp of defenses and what they're trying to do.

    The birth certificate may say Gates is 30, but Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers doesn't read into it.

    "I think in his case, that may just be a number," Rivers said.