Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross senior linebacker Tommy Tate (51) pumps up his teammates in the weight room prior to the first round of Class AAAAAA high school football playoffs against Chattahoochee in Norcross Friday.
Who: Norcross vs. Lovejoy
When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Georgia Dome
When Tommy Tate got to Norcross High School, he wanted to wear No. 58.
He chose the number in honor of his favorite linebacker of all-time, Pittsburgh Steeler great Jack Lambert.
Instead he got No. 51 and began to draw comparisons to another legendary linebacker named Dick Butkus.
Tate's response was classic for a teenager. Who?
"I didn't even know who he was, really," Tate said.
With that No. 51 on his chest and his throwback style of play, Tate has shown a resemblance to the former Chicago Bears star of the 1960s.
The linebacker leads the team in tackles and is a big part of why Norcross (14-0) is in Saturday's Class AAAAAA state championship game against Lovejoy (13-1).
"Yeah, he's old school. I've said that a lot," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "He's one of those guys that would wear a neck roll, have the high pads ups, just running around making plays."
When Tate showed up at practice with his No. 51 jersey, his coaches began to call him Dick Butkus because of his style of play.
"When I got 51, I kept hearing about Dick Butkus. I was like 'OK, who is this guy?'" Tate said.
His dad left an article in his bedroom about Butkus and Tate found out he was one of the most feared linebackers to play the position.
"You know what, I can relate to this guy," Tate said.
Tate has been a menace to opposing offenses this season, racking up 170 tackles. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior also has 22 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, four pass breakups and a blocked punt.
"He's so physical and he's one of those guys that throws their bodies around," Maloof said. "There's a lot of guys that play fast and physical, but they don't throw their body around like he does. It's like a train hitting a car sitting on the track."
Tate has had some of his best games the last couple of weeks in the playoffs. He made 15 tackles against Camden County and had 18 stops last week vs. Colquitt County.
"All my teammates do their job," Tate said. "It just happens to be I'm the one that turns up with the tackles."
Collecting an abundance of tackles each week has become the norm for Tate, who was an all-county selection by the Gwinnett Touchdown Club. He averages 12 tackles a game.
"I take pride in my work," Tate said. "I take pride in how many tackles I made. It's what I do."
Tate has also been a threat in special teams as Norcross' punter. He has a 33.7-yard punting average this season, including a 47-yard punt against Colquitt County.
Tate, who doesn't lack any confidence, shaved his hair in a mohawk the first week of the state playoffs.
"I said I was going to keep it until the end of the playoffs," Tate said. "My mom said I had to keep it until we lose. I told her I guess I'll have it forever."
Tate, who maintains a 3.0 GPA, wants to play football in college, but he hasn't put too much emphasis on recruiting. He's been too worried about getting Norcross to the state finals for the first time in school history.
"One thing our team has done that has set us apart from other teams is we've haven't felt like we're in the playoffs. Since we've been winning since Day 1, we think we've won. We don't know how to lose," Tate said. "We just put a lot effort and take a lot of pride in what we do. Losing is not an option for us. We're going to keep doing what we're doing. This is just like any old game, we're just adding a trophy to it."