Justin Cates’ road to becoming a professional football player had some potholes, but he never wavered in his commitment to becoming a professional football player.
The former N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University standout was invited to the National Football League’s first Historically Black Colleges and Universities Combine last spring. However, the NFL canceled the HBCU combine because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Down but not out, Cates returned home to Goldsboro to train with his former high school coaches Leander Oates and Michael Harper, and to figure out his next steps.
Encouraged by his family, Cates started emailing football teams in the Canadian Football League. Eventually, after weeks of emailing teams, Cates began to gain some traction, and the Edmonton Football Team showed interest in signing Cates.
Christmas and New Years’ came and went with Cates remaining unsigned, but Edmonton reached out to Cates last week, and they offered him a contract.
Edmonton sent over the contract and Cates signed on the dotted line, which officially made him a professional football player. He signed a two-year, free-agent contract with Edmonton Football Team.
“It feels amazing to finally sign that paper and become a professional athlete,” Cates said. “I have to say my parents have been the two people that were behind me the most.
“They told me ‘to stick with it, and everything happens for a reason.’ My dad is always giving me daily advice about staying the course and that my time is coming.”
Cates, who is currently in Mississippi visiting family, is returning to Goldsboro at the end of January to continue training before heading off to the CFL rookie camp in May.
And he already has some big goals in mind.
“The first thing that came into my head was to become defensive MVP of the league,” Cates said. “That’s the goal because I still have another goal in mind, which is to reach the NFL level, and I believe that I can still.”
One of the N.C. A&T’s most decorated defensive lineman, Cates, is a two-time All-MEAC first-team selection. For his career, he recorded 100 tackles, 27.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks.
Cates also helped lead the Aggies to their third straight Celebration Bowl championship, and he earned his master’s degree in computer technology last spring.
Now a professional football player, Cates wants to be an inspiration to every young athlete in Goldsboro because he proved why people should never give up on their dreams, even if there are some potholes along the way.
“Not having a pro day or the HBCU combine, and to still be able to sign with a professional team, it means everything,” Cates said. “It’s nothing but God and staying the course. You can go to an HBCU and still sign with a professional team.
“You can make your dreams come, and my dream definitely came true.”