The last time Bernard Scott's family gathered for an NFL draft, his uncle exulted inside prison as the information ran across to the bottom of his TV screen faster than his nephew.
Sixth round to the Bengals.
That was two years ago. Now in two weeks at this year's draft party, Scott's uncle, Edward Gates, in his sixth month on the outside, is going to be front and center with his son, Edmond Gates, an Abilene Christian wide receiver that is Scott's cousin by blood, kin by speed, and brother by bedroom.
Make that even faster. Maybe because Edmond Gates had to outrun the demons of Edward Gates along with everything else. If the father took a life, he also gave the son a life with 18 years of fierce, scared straight counsel.
"Ever since he was little, every time he turned around, people were telling him, 'You're going to end up just like your daddy. You're going to end up just like your daddy,' " the daddy says. "Well he didn't. And I'm so proud he didn't."
Edmond Gates and Bernard Scott grew up sharing a bed in the cramped house at 1518 Lamar Street in the tough tiny Texas town of Vernon on the side where the streets aren't paved and the temptations are. They are now on the NFL's super highway with Gates expected to go as early as the third round and no later than the fifth even though he never really wore a football helmet until Scott told him to go into the equipment room at ACU four years ago and pick one out.
"I looked up to Bernard; he was older," Edmond Gates says. "He grew up playing sports and so did I. I can remember doing pushups before we'd go to bed. We always seemed to be competing, but we're close."
They may have grown up in the same bed and are still inseparable in the offseason, but Scott and Gates are as different as a running back and a receiver. If Scott is shy and quiet, Gates is outgoing and chatty. If Scott tolerates the cameras, Gates invites them. If Scott grew up playing the game, Gates learned it on the run like a sportsticker crawl. If Scott is fast, Gates is even faster.
The fastest receiver at February's NFL scouting combine. Clif Marshall, the man who trained Gates for that fast-forward 4.31 40-yard dash, remembers Scott taking bets from his Bengals teammates, putting money on exactly that. If the scouts fret about Gates's raw 25 years of age, his strength, and his route-running, they also love his maturity, commitment and white-hot speed. The draftnicks even say the Bengals are a logical fit because of their need for speed and the presence of Scott.
Of course, after it took three years for one Division II receiver to get acclimated in Jerome Simpson, just how quickly do the Bengals go down that road again if they don't take one of the two studs with the fourth pick? But what everyone does know is that Gates is one of draft weekend's riveting tales.
If Scott is best known for winning the Division II Heisman as the best running back in the history of the Lone Star Conference, then his second biggest act at Abilene is fast-talking Gates onto the football team even though Gates quit the sport after a brief fling his sophomore year of high school. Head coach Chris Thomsen only knew Gates as Scott's little cousin nicknamed "Clyde," who tagged along to campus after the basketball coaches at Tyler Junior College told him he wasn't good enough. Which is about what the basketball coaches at ACU told him, too.
"What are you doing?" Thomsen asked that day in August he saw Gates putting on a helmet.
"Bernard told me to get one," Gates told him and Thomsen has to laugh now when he remembers his reaction.
"So Bernard's running the show now? Let's talk in my office," Thomsen told him.
The talk was brief. We'll see what you've got, but …
"You could see it in just two or three days," Thomsen says. "He had juice. There was speed there. And he could catch. Plus, he soaked up everything we told him, and did everything we told him. A great kid. Hard worker. If it wasn't for Bernard's recruiting … ."
Now it is Edmond Gates' turn to laugh.
"He told me to come to school with him to try out for the basketball team and when that didn't work out, he told me to try football," he says. "I just didn't like football in high school. I was small, not even 150 pounds and I was playing wingback and cornerback. It just wasn't fun."
Fun was watching a 5-11, 190-pound kid come out of nowhere with pure, uncut speed.
That first year shadowing future NFL receiver Johnny Knox, Gates strapped on Scott's helmet and caught 12 balls for a scorching 285 yards and kept getting better. Knox would go on to get drafted the round before Scott, and Gates would go on to take his place, ending the most improbable of careers last season with 66 catches for nearly 18 yards per on that speed that one draft analyst calls "breathtaking."
"The toughest thing was learning to read defenses," Edmond Gates says, "but Johnny helped me a lot. I just watched him."
Nearly 18 yards per catch. One for every year his father went away when Edmond was six. Back when Edward remembers holding both Edmond and Bernard in his arms.
"Sure, I remember him," Edmond Gates says. "I was big enough."
For Edward Gates, that speed was like being able to breathe again. The first game he ever saw his son play came just a few days after Edward was released from a federal prison in Amarillo, Tex., as Edmond's college career was ending. It was late October when Edmond caught six balls for 124 yards against Angelo State and Edward was sitting on the 50-yard line. But his head was spinning as if he were standing in the middle of it.
"After being locked up for two decades, everything was moving so fast. It took me three months to get used to being around people and places again," Edward Gates says. "I almost missed the play. I just wasn't used to it. I thought they had him tackled at the 50 on the sidelines. Then, all of a sudden he was gone. He got away from them just like that. I said, to myself, 'That boy is fast.' "
Edward Gates knew what he knew only from clippings people sent him and the snippets crawling underneath ESPN. Scott's exploits had helped the days grow shorter, but his son's unexpected career ("Football?" he asked when Edmond's mother told him) made them excruciating. He was missing it, but it also made the days exciting.
"Abilene doesn't get on ESPN much," Edward Gates says. "But in 2008 when Bernard was rushing for 2,000 yards and they were going undefeated, they made the top 10 once. All my brothers played football. My daddy played semi-pro. I was the black sheep. I went the other way. I was trying to get to the American Dream illegally."
There was booze and drugs. A lot of cocaine. A lot of crime. Even having Edmond at age 21 didn't stop him. What did was murder on the Fourth of July, 1992 in Wichita County, a crime Edward has told people was induced by a tattered patchwork quilt of chemicals and delusions.
"Self-defense," Edward Gates says. "It was drug-related. I put myself in that situation. I'm not the same person in Christ. I've put it in the past. I had to forgive myself before God could forgive me."
He couldn't bear to tell six-year-old Edmond how long he would be gone.
"I got 20 years. How can you tell a little kid you wouldn't be back for 20 years? They don't understand time," Edward Gates says. "I was afraid to tell him that I wouldn't be back until he was 24, 25. I thought that would make him rebellious. I just told him I'd be back, but until then I wrote him letters. I don't know how many. A lot. I always wrote and told him to listen to his grandmother and mother and to do whatever they said. And to do the opposite of what I did."
Edmond Gates remembers going to prison just once to visit his father when he was little and maybe talking to him just a few times on the phone. He never remembers writing a letter to him. But Edward recently told his dad that he always looked for him on holidays.
"He told me, 'Momma, I don't want to see him like that,' " says mother Yudy. "I think he was scared to go to jail and visit him. Edward wrote him letters all the time. He knew he loved him."
There was a lot of love in a small home. There was Edmond's grandmother, "a lady as good as gold," says Thomsen. "In Texas," Edward Gates says, "the grandmothers do a lot of the raising of the kids because the parents are working. Edmond loves his momma and she was always there, but he really loves his grandmomma."
There was also Yudy's sister Sheila, Bernard's mother, and Bernard's older and younger brother.
"I think having Bernard was important for Edmond," Yudy says. "They were really like brothers and they got along well. We told them early; you have to look out for each other."
Scott was looking out for Edmond last season when he saw Marshall in the Bengals weight room. Marshall, who occasionally helps out strength coaches Chip Morton and Jeff Friday, runs the Ignition gym in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio, and has made a name for himself getting prospects ready for the combine during the winter in Naples, Fla. Scott suggested Marshall should hook up with Gates and the rest is one short 40-yard dash.
First Marshall told Scott to get a helmet and then Scott networked his cousin for a 4.31. Scott may have a post-career in personnel.
"Bernard opened some doors for him," Thomsen says.
Gates naturally eased into being the leader of his training group. To start the sessions, he'd throw chalk into the air a la LeBron James, and sometimes he'd smear the chalk on his face. If the pace began to lag, he'd get them going with a few chants.
"This whole process shows you how mature Edmond is," Marshall says. "He knew exactly how he wanted to get ready for the combine and what he had to do. He wanted an intimate setting and something that was faith-based. The night before he ran at the combine, he couldn't sleep he was so excited. It was 1 in the morning and he's saying, 'Hey Clif, you still up?' I remember him staying up and reading texts from his coach at Abilene with Biblical verses."
The next day Gates ran a 40 that NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang says "made him a lot of money." Marshall remembers the hand-held watch at 4.31 and the electronic timer at 4.37 after Gates requested Knox give him the same shoes he used to run his 40 in '09. Even more amazing than the times is how Gates got them.
When he injured his hamstring on the first day of practice for the South squad in the Senior Bowl Jan. 24, all looked lost because he was going to get into the league proving his speed just wasn't based off running past small college players.
In order to get Gates ready for the combine a month later, Marshall brought him along slowly because the 40 was going to be the difference. During training, he never had Gates run a 40 beyond 20 yards so he wouldn't blow out the hamstring again.
"So I think you can say he went 4.31 and he wasn't 100 percent," Marshall says.
You can guess what the scouts are saying. The one spot where guys get over-drafted is speed receiver. But the one thing scouts fear is 25-year-old projects.
Pro Football Weekly's report: "An average-sized overaged, motivated late bloomer with outstanding speed and an impact upside. He was simply too fast for Division II competition, though his maturity and playing mentality indicates he will not be intimidated at the next level. He will appeal to teams such as the Raiders, Bears, Bengals and Packers."
The scouts wonder if Gates will get banged around on the perimeter because of his lack of ballast, but Rang says teams are excited about him.
"I was at the North practice the day he got hurt, but that was the first name on the lips of scouts when they were asked who impressed them," Rang says. "He must have looked real good before he got hurt. The 40 time was so important for him because it shows his speed is legit and it just wasn't the competition. I don't like the DeSean Jackson comparison, but he does have big-play ability. He can go deep. He has the ability to make defenders miss. He's seen as a developmental guy, but he'll make plays for you right away because of his speed."
All the scouts may have to do is compare him to Knox. In two seasons with the Bears he has caught 96 balls for 10 touchdowns and averages 15.5 yards per catch. He's also returned 40 kickoffs for a 27.7-yard average, a skill the scouts think Gates can execute at least occasionally in the NFL. Thomsen gets asked to compare those two a lot.
"He's every bit as fast. Edmond may be a little bigger, Johnny might have a tad more polish but he's right there. This kid is still developing," Thomsen says.
Gates is close enough to those roots that one night at the hotel in Naples when Marshall and Gates were watching his 40 stance, Gates grabbed the laptop and punched up Google Earth to show Marshall the house where he grew up.
"It was small," Marshall says. "Then he turned it a little ways up the road and showed me some kind of bar or roadhouse. He said that's where the bad element hung out, the place where you had to stay away from. The night before he ran I told him, 'This is going to be easy for you. You've been running your whole life. Running away from the bad and running to the good.' "
Edmond Gates doesn't need a hard drive to know where he's came from. That's why he admires Scott.
"No matter how good Bernard has been or how far he's gone," Edmond Gates says, "he's always been just a guy. A regular guy. A good guy who has stayed quiet and humble."
It's why he respects his father for sticking with him even from jail and writing all those letters of encouragement.
"He's doing well," Edmond Gates says. "All his advice helped me. Sometimes I stop by and we go out to dinner and just talk, we catch up."
"Psalm 37:4," is the way Edward Gates sees it. "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
The desire was always to see Edmond go the other way and now that he's running away with so much heart, so is Edward. He's currently "the No. 1 dishwasher at Three Hearts," a steakhouse in Vernon, but he's got an interview at Tyson's on Friday that could turn into a managerial position in two years for the chicken business.
"God orchestrates it all," Edward Gates says.
But having a big brother on the other side of the bed helps, too.