College Report: Naperville Central’s Cameron Brate gets chance with NFL’s Bucs

Cameron Brate’s (Naperville Central) college football career is over.

But his football career is not. The former Harvard University player is a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On July 20, Brate’s odyssey into professional football will start. He was not drafted, signing after the draft. While most schools use their tight ends as another offensive lineman, Harvard utilized Brate (6-5, 245 pounds) as another wide receiver. He finished his career with 1,381 receiving yards on 91 catches with 18 touchdowns. He averaged 15.2 yards per catch.

“I was happy to get a phone call from anyone willing to give me a chance,” said Brate. “The draft is such a crazy process. I am nervous, but I am looking forward to it.

“I hope that the Buccaneers saw a player that did their assignments well while at Harvard. And if I do that in training camp, maybe I will get an opportunity to play on Sunday.”

As a senior, he had 403 receiving yards on 25 catches. He caught five touchdown passes and his 16.1 yards per catch was the best of his career. It was also the second consecutive year that Brate finished with more than 400 receiving yards.

The Ivy League was a long way from where Brate started. As a freshman at Naperville Central, Brate was 5-10 and 145 pounds. He was on the freshman B team. A year later, Brate had grown to 6-4 and weighed 200 pounds.

“I knew the growth spurt was coming, I just did not know when,” said Brate. “When Harvard contacted me, I thought at first it was a joke. When I was selecting schools, I never envisioned that I could go to a school like that. My parents (Phil and Patricia) were very excited.”

For his play on the gridiron, Brate was named to the all-Ivy League team for three years. He was a second team selection as a sophomore and a first teamer as a junior and senior.

The Naperville resident earned a degree in economics in May.

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Rickey Simpson (Waubonsie Valley) is mentally and physically a football guy.

The defensive lineman’s devotion to the game has extended beyond Saturday afternoons playing for Illinois State the past four years.

“I love the planning of how to win a football game,” said Simpson. “On the field, I love hunting down a player and getting the big hit. One of the great things about football at ISU is singing the fight song after a home victory. That is special.

“My position coach (Spence Nowinsky) and the head coach (Brock Spack) always had us prepared for each game.”

Simpson played the best football of his college career during his senior year, finishing with 42 tackles, including 16 solos. Five of those tackles were for 34 yards of loss, including 3.5 sacks.

His career numbers were 68 tackles (27 solos), 6.5 tackles for 38 yards of loss, which included four sacks.

During Simpson’s four years at ISU, the Redbirds were 27-19 and 18-14 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The son of Leroy and Talehia Simpson of Montgomery graduated in May with a degree in legal studies.

“My football career is due to numerous people,” said Simpson. “I can’t say enough about Acceleration Pro in Naperville. The Niklos brothers (J.R. and Mike) helped condition me from an IHSA 8A football player to a Division I player. They have the best conditioning program in the country by far in my opinion.

“My high school coach (Paul Murphy) put me on the right path. I can’t imagine having a better high school coach.”

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