MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Alliance of American Football kicked off its inaugural season last Saturday, and through one week of play, Memphis Express linebacker DeMarquis Gates leads the league in total tackles.
Gates racked up 10 solo tackles in the Express’ 26-0 loss to the Birmingham Iron on Sunday. He also forced two fumbles and one tackle for loss.
“Felt great," Gates said after practice on Tuesday. "Been off the field for about a year and few months. Felt good getting back out there, playing around and getting to hit somebody else for a chance. It felt really good.”
Gates played college football at Ole Miss, where he led the Rebels in tackles from 2015-2017. Although he became Ole Miss’ top option at the position, his coaches complained at times about his inability play within the defensive gameplan.
“I just try to make a play when it comes my way," Gates said about playing style. "I try to be a good teammate. Just try to be the best I can be. Try to help my teammates. Try to help them win. That’s my goal as a linebacker. Do whatever I can to help my defense, and my team win.”
Gates was not selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, and spent just two months with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. He was away from football for over a year when the Express gave him another shot at professional football. Express head coach Mike Singletary said he’s impressed with what he’s seen from his young linebacker so far.
“I think he’s a guy that’s in the process of becoming special," Singletary said. "He just has to learn to push himself, and take it to the next level, and he can do that.”
“I think he’s an instinctive guy. I think it’s important for him to play within the defense, but at the same time some of that roaming is instinct. You have to be able to find that thin line between letting him do his own thing, and playing within the confines of the defense.”
Gates has become one of Singletary’s closest pupils. The two are often in constant communication at practice. Singletary, a former linebacker himself, has commanded Gates’ respect as a Pro-Football Hall of Famer.
“Definitely got to soak it in when it’s coming from a Hall of Famer," Gates said. He did it before. He’s been there before. He’s been in my shoes. He definitely knows what he’s talking about. It would be stupid of me not to listen, and not to absorb what he’s telling me and teaching me. It’s great having him as a coach.”
Although Gates’ made a strong debut in the Express’ season opener, he said he’s not thrilled with the team’s performance overall. Memphis struggled offensively, and the defense could only do so much before Birmingham took advantage of the momentum. Gates said he wants to build on his performance for the home opener against the Arizona Hotshots on Saturday, and said he hopes for a better team result.
“I’m not the team. If the team doesn’t win, that performance doesn’t really mean anything," Gates said. "Of course I’m happy with being able to help my team win, but we just all have to come on collectively and make it happen.”
Kickoff for the Express home opener vs. the Hotshots is 7 PM Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.