Jefferson Hills native Gates achieves Academic All-American

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

On college campuses across the country, there are awards for athletic success and awards for academic achievement. But the prestigious Academic All-American honor recognizes those individuals who excel in both arenas.

Last month, Jefferson Hills native Evan Gates — who just finished his senior year on the men's cross country and track teams at Carnegie Mellon University — was named a first-team NCAA Division III Capital One Academic All-American.

The Thomas Jefferson High School product excelled in both sports, and also earned a 4.0 grade-point average while carrying a dual major in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering.

“It's a great honor to receive recognition for excelling both in the classroom and in sports, especially at the Division III level,” Gates said.

“Unlike Division I, where sports can be the priority, academics has to be the priority here.”

While he excelled in two sports, Gates' best sport was cross country, said Dario Donatelli, head coach of both the track and cross country programs at Carnegie Mellon.

In track, his career-best time in the mile is 4:18.5 (indoor), while his best outdoor times are 8:40 in the 3,000-meter and 14:58.36 in the 5,000-meter.

In cross country, Gates was a Division III All-American during the 2011 season, placing 28th in the country in the NCAA 8K championship meet.

“Cross country suited him because of the strategy involved,” Donatelli said. “He always knew the course he was on, he prepared, and he rarely made any tactical mistakes. And if he did make a mistake, he made it only one time and never made it again.”

Donatelli said Gates has some natural athletic ability, but much of his success was due to his training and discipline.

“He's the most methodical trainer I've ever had here,” Donatelli said. “If you told him what to do, he would do it exactly as you ask.”

Gates competed for Carnegie Mellon for each of the past three years (he was injured as a freshman) and, during each season, his role on the team grew.

By this year, he was a top performer and team leader, said Donatelli.

“Evan was going to be in the top two or three places in every meet. You just knew Evan was going to be up there,” Donatelli said. “He was like another coach out there.

“He was the ultimate team guy. Not only did he know his role each year, he embraced that role and got better and better each year.”

Much of that role was to serve as a leader. This year, Gates was the only member of the roster to previously qualify for the NCAA meet.

As a result, he worked hard to mentally prepare his teammates for what they might expect if they were to make it to the national competition.

“Normally, it's pretty quiet on the course. Usually only parents and close friends are out there (as spectators),” Gates said. “Nationals is a completely different story. I had to keep the guys focused on making it to nationals, and I had to convey what the atmosphere would be like and the emotions that would probably occur at the startling line, the night before the race, and even during the race.”

Gates was an even bigger star on the academic side.

“It was almost a foregone conclusion that Evan would take care of his academics,” Donatelli said. “I've coached kids who got good grades before, but I've never seen a kid who got them the way he (did).”

Given the demands of collegiate sports and the rigors of college academics, it's not at all uncommon for an athlete to use those academic challenges as an excuse for a poor athletic performance or less-than-stellar preparation, Donatelli said.

“I've had kids miss practice to study or tell me how they pulled an all-nighter and didn't get any sleep before a race,” he said.

“Not with Evan. He has everything so together, that even on his busiest weeks, he still got his sleep at night. He didn't put things off, so he was ready to compete.”

Gates said time-management was the key.

“It really does come down to time-management, and that's something I've been able to do well,” he said. “Usually, you have a meet every week. I tried to get my homework done on weeknights, instead of putting it off to the weekend. If you don't put it off until Friday night, you can get your sleep the night before a race.”

Even though his CMU days are finished, Gates still will have to put those time management skills to the test beginning this fall. He is enrolling in the biomedical engineering doctorate program at Duke University, where he plans to study how mechanical forces influence cell development.

While he's done with competitive collegiate sports, he's not done with running. He's signed up for his first half-marathon, and hopes to run a marathon in the future.

“I'll still run. I also want to return to the track and see how fast I can run a mile,” said Gates, adding that he will miss the team aspect of competing.

“I'm definitely going to miss the camaraderie,” he said. “Now that it's over, I wish I would have enjoyed it more.”

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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