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DE Tate Wildeman could have chosen another school, or even another sport, but Nebraska was where he was supposed to be.

Tate Wildeman’s journey to Nebraska ended how it was supposed to

Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2018 signees. Land of 10 Nebraska reporter Erin Sorensen is visiting the incoming freshman class and will introduce the Nebraska fan base to the newest Huskers. Today we feature defensive end Tate Wildeman.


PARKER, Colo. – Tate Wildeman was ready to quit football.

He started his high school football career at Legend High School in Parker, Colo., as a quarterback. The problem was he was only 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds as a freshman, so he was third (and occasionally fourth) on the depth chart. It didn’t bother him too much at the time, only because his passion laid elsewhere.

“Not a lot of people know about my baseball career before football,” Wildeman told Land of 10. “That was obviously big for me.”

As a freshman, Wildeman split his time between football and the fall baseball team. While he struggled on the football field, he found solace on the diamond. That was until the second week of the fall season.

Wildeman was playing first base. He attempted to catch a throw, but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The runner barreled right into his extended arm.

“I ended up breaking my arm,” Wildeman said. “It just snapped in half.”

Tate Wildeman pitches for Legend High School as a sophomore. (Tate Wildeman/courtesy)

By spring, Wildeman had recovered and was ready to give baseball another try. Except this time, he only made his school’s C team.

As for football, he wasn’t convinced he wanted to play as a sophomore. He’d grown significantly his freshman year, checking in around 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds with plenty of room to grow. He was moved to wide receiver, so he decided to give football one last shot.

It still wasn’t working as he struggled to get into a groove with his new position. Then one of his coaches pulled him aside.

We’re short on defensive linemen. Want to give it a try?

Wildeman shrugged. He was moved to defense, but he kept trying to line up on offense.

No, not there.

You’re playing on this side of the ball now.

Line up here, not there.

“This isn’t going to work,” Wildeman recalled.

He wasn’t one to quit, though. He figured he’d at least see one more season through.

***

Christine Wildeman had to work the day of her son’s sophomore football season opener. A family physician in Loveland, Colo., Christine rushed to make it for the last quarter of the game. As she arrived, a friend of Tate’s mom stopped her.

Tate Wildeman poses before his sophomore football season. (Christine Wildeman/courtesy)

Tate just made a tackle.

“He doesn’t hit kids,” Christine remembers thinking. “He’s a wide receiver.”

Tate hadn’t told Christine about the move to defense. Yet, there he was in his baby blue Under Armour cleats. In fact, had it not been for those bright blue cleats, Christine may not have believed it was her son.

Tate ended up starting all 10 games his sophomore year on defense.

And when Tate didn’t advance on the baseball field the following spring, he hung up his ball cap. He was ready to focus on football.

“I felt like I could get bigger in the weight room and by eating more,” Tate said. “If I put my focus there, I thought maybe I could possibly do this thing.”

Christine saw it, too. And with Tate all-in on football, she did everything she could to provide the resources he needed to improve. That included a football camp in Texas and the opportunity to work with former Colorado defensive lineman and NFL guard Matt McChesney.

With the right position and the right resources, football began to click for Tate.

***

Tate’s dad, Parker, is a former defensive tackle for Iowa. He was a team captain for the Hawkeyes and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 1994.

For Tate, the move from offense to defense changed things. Now 6-6 and 250 pounds, the defensive end position better suited his size. He also liked playing defense more than offense, and it showed on the field.

In his high school career, Tate recorded 101 tackles (80 solo) and 12 sacks. By the time he was getting recruited, 247Sports listed him as a 4-star defensive end.

Tate received scholarship offers from Colorado State, Washington State, Arizona State and several others. Iowa offered on April 2, 2017, but his heart was elsewhere.

Nebraska offered on April 14, 2017, the same day Tate unofficially visited Lincoln for the spring game. He committed to the Huskers two days later.

Tate Wildeman on his official visit to Nebraska. (Tate Wildeman/courtesy)

The connection was there for Tate. Bob Diaco had just been hired as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator a couple of months prior, which was perfect timing. Diaco was a linebacker at Iowa when Parker was there, and the two had become lifelong friends. Diaco attended Tate’s baptism.

When Diaco was fired along with former coach Mike Riley and his staff in late November, Tate considered jumping ship. He briefly looked elsewhere, taking official visits to Washington State and Colorado State.

But, while Diaco was a bonus in Tate’s recruitment, he wasn’t a factor in the commitment. Nebraska’s pitch was strong enough on its own that when coach Scott Frost was hired, Tate was content staying put.

“Rumors had been flying after Coach Riley was fired that Frost would be the guy and I was hopeful for that,” Tate said. “But before I even knew who the coaching staff was officially going to be, my heart was set on Nebraska.”

It didn’t hurt that there was still a familiar face on Frost’s staff. Nebraska’s new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was an offensive lineman for the University of Iowa from 1998-2002. And sure enough, Parker was Iowa’s strength coach at the time.

“Funny how that worked out,” Tate said.

***

Had you told Tate that Nebraska would be his landing spot prior to his junior year of high school, he never would have believed you. He grew up with plenty of Iowa Hawkeyes gear, and spent some time thinking he’d end up at Arizona State.

He had always been familiar with Nebraska, though. His grandparents live in Lincoln, while his aunt and uncle live in Omaha. All are Huskers fans.

Tate Wildeman — with his mom and brother at a Nebraska football game — likes to laugh now at his choice of outfit. (Christine Wildeman/courtesy)

It was because of his grandparents and his aunt and uncle that Tate went to Nebraska games long before he was recruited. He may have worn Iowa gear to one of those games, but Tate just laughs about it now.

“Oh, no comment on that,” Tate said. “That was a dark point in my life.”

Having a support system so close is something Tate is looking forward to most. He knows he’ll have family at every game, whether it’s his mom, dad, grandparents, aunt and uncle or brothers. That made the Nebraska decision a little easier, and a lot sweeter.

Tate could have quit football. He could have committed to Iowa or Arizona State. He didn’t, though. He’s glad it worked out that way.

“It could have been completely different than it is now,” Tate said. “But this was how it was supposed to be.”

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