GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WNCT) — The past year has been a struggle for many, learning how to overcome new challenges with the coronavirus. For athletes, the pandemic placed a hold on future careers but is not stopping them from reaching their goals.
Growing up in Eastern North Carolina meant playing sports for 25-year-old Justin Cates. As a kid, he dreamed big, having aspirations of one day playing ball professionally.
“I have been playing football for all my life,” said Justin Cates, who will now take his talents to the Canadian Football League.
A standout at Goldsboro High School, Cates went on to play collegiately at North Carolina A&T. He racked up numerous accolades, including team captain his senior year, All-American status and First-Team All-MEAC.
“I am just trying to inspire people from where I’m from, my family, kids back home, people now coming up at the Boys and Girls Club at Goldsboro High School,” said Cates. “I want them just to know that they can do it and to stay determined, stay on track and everything will fall in place.”
In 2020, while preparing for the first ever NFL HBCU Combine, COVID-19 placed a hold on the world and his playing career.
The phones went silent. Cates was turned away by scouts.
“Everything got canceled with COVID. Everything went down. Scouts weren’t able to come out or talk to teams like they normally would be able to,” Cates said. “So, after the draft, I didn’t hear anyone call and actually went into the workforce.”
The past year, he kept his dream alive by continuing to grind in pursuit of his future self. Now, he is turning that dream into a reality.
“I have been wanting to do this since I was a little kid,” said Cates.
“It has been nothing but love. Everybody is very supportive of me. They were telling me they always knew that I could do it since I was little kid,” said Cates.
It’s something his former teammates at North Carolina A&T says has been a long time coming.
“I mean just to see all of his hard work pay off and all of the long nights and early mornings, all of the film, all of the practices, all the sweat, all the tears,” said Denzel Keys, Justin’s former teammate. “To see it all pay off is just a great thing to see.”
Cates reports for camp this summer but leaves one message behind in Eastern North Carolina: to never give up on a dream.
Key differences between Canadian Football and American Football:
- Players: Canadian football teams have 12 players on the field at one time, opposed to 11 American football players
- Field Size: In Canada, football fields are 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, compared to America’s 100 yard long and 53 1/3 yards wide fields
- Downs: Instead of four downs as in the American game, Canadian football has three
Learn more here.