Steve Tate figured he'd go to the University of Utah when he finished playing at Skyline High School in 2000.

After all, he was a Ute fan, his grandfather had played there in the 1940s and he had the credentials as the Deseret Morning News' Mr. Football after leading the Eagles to the state 5A title.

However, when the Utes were slow in offering a scholarship, Tate decided to head up to Logan and play for Utah State.

That was seven years ago, and look where Tate is now — the senior leader and captain for a Ute team that is expected to contend for the Mountain West Conference title this year.

"It's crazy where I was then and where I am now," Tate said. "I've been through the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows."

Actually, his Utah State experience was one of his highs, and his first year at Utah was one of the lows. At USU, he was able to play a lot of minutes as a true freshman and play against top 20 teams like LSU and Oregon.

"Looking back it was a great experience," he said. "It helped me to this day, for sure. I have absolutely no regrets."

The day after Tate committed to USU, Utah offered a scholarship. Although he wasn't the Utah coach at the time or in charge of recruiting, Kyle Whittingham acknowledged, "We dragged our feet a little bit. Utah State was very proactive, and he opted to take the offer. We re-evaluated and came with a later offer, but he, being a high character kid, kept his commitment to Utah State."

During his LDS mission, Tate had a change of heart and, with encouragement from Whittingham, walked on at the U. when he got home.

He had to earn a scholarship under Urban Meyer, and though he contemplated giving up football altogether, Tate eventually got his scholarship and has played a lot of minutes the past two years, starting all of last year.

When asked if Tate was one of the leaders of the defense now that Eric Weddle was gone, Whittingham replied, "He may be the top leader on the team."

His teammates showed that by electing him as one of the four captains this year.

"Being elected captain is one of the biggest honors of my life as far as athletics go," Tate said.

Now Tate is geared up for what he hopes is a great senior season. He's been slowed by hernia surgery in late June after "being in the best shape of my life."

Tate suffered the sports hernia injury while doing squats and went back to Philadelphia to have a prominent surgeon, who also did work on Donovan McNabb and Grant Hill, do the operation.

It took much of the summer to get feeling back to normal, but Tate has been participating in drills during fall camp and feeling better every day.

"It's 100 percent as far as I'm concerned," Tate said.

Tate, who led the team with 102 tackles last year, will play the free safety position again this year, and he expects great things from the defense — and the secondary in particular.

"We've got youth and we have athleticism," Tate said. "We've just got to get our chemistry together and gel."