A 'leader by example' on the gridiron

Jun. 30—WESTPORT — Being a hard worker and a leader typically go hand in hand.

Those are two attributes those who know Wyatt Gatewood use to describe him.

Rick Zimmerman has been coaching football for 35 years at four different high schools. He's coached at South Decatur for the past two seasons, where Gatewood was the starting quarterback and free safety.

"He was one of the best leaders on the field that I've ever had," Zimmerman said. "Kids followed him. He's a hard worker. He led by example by how hard he worked."

Where does Gatewood get those attributes? He points to his father, Shawn Gatewood, a farm equipment mechanic who runs Shawn's Ag Repair.

"I was around him when he started it," Gatewood said. "It's hard to start a business. He's always worked long hours, and I've always had to work them with him. Working hard is always just something I've done. And being a leader is always something I've done, too."

Embracing new offense

Gatewood played baseball and basketball growing up, but football was always his favorite sport. It was also the one he was best at, but that's not necessarily why it was his favorite.

"I like the toughness, the grit of it," he said.

He started playing football in elementary school. As a freshman for the Cougars, Gatewood started in the defensive backfield while also subbing in at wide receiver and tailback.

He took over at quarterback his sophomore year, playing it the last three years, in addition to starting at free safety.

The Cougars went 5-2 in 2020. It was their first winning season since 2016.

Gatewood was a big reason for their success. Despite playing for three coaches in four years, he threw for 624 yards and seven touchdowns against three interceptions as a senior.

Zimmerman brought the pistol Wing-T offense to the Cougars in 2019. It gave Gatewood more responsibility for reading the defense, determining if he should hand the ball off, or take off and run.

He rushed for 243 yards and three TDs, both of which ranked second on the team to halfback Clayton McNealy.

Gatewood admits it was a big adjustment learning the Wing-T, but he enjoyed it.

"When Z came in, there was a lot more throwing and a lot more things he put into my hand," Gatewood said. "We had read-options. It was more fun."

The two-way player made 31 tackles and picked off three passes. He was also a kick returner, and returned one for a TD.

While Gatewood didn't get to play much wide receiver for the Cougars, he really enjoys the position. At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, he hopes he'll play slot receiver in college.

Excited for future

Gatewood was contacted by a coach at Manchester University shortly after the season. He went for a visit and was blown away by the new football field and stadium. He really liked the campus and how everyone was friendly.

He later had another school in Ohio contact him, but he'd already verbally committed to Manchester.

South Decatur held a signing ceremony in April for Gatewood and teammate Shawn Wright, who signed with Trine University.

It was a special day when Gatewood officially made his dream come true.

"It was pretty exciting," he said. "I've always wanted to play college football. It was a goal of mine, so it was a big achievement. I felt really excited to sign."

The excitement is mutual.

"I am excited to work with Wyatt for the next four years as he continues to grow and develop as a great person, a great student and as a great football player here at Manchester University," Spartans coach Nate Jenson said.

Wright played beside Gatewood in the defensive backfield. He was appreciative of how Gatewood helped him remain positive after tearing his ACL.

"Wyatt is a very team-oriented player and always pushes the players he's around to be better," Wright said.

Gatewood wants to stay involved with sports after his playing days are over, and intends to study athletic training.

He thanked coaches Garry Sauley and Zimmerman, calling them his two biggest mentors.

Zimmerman said Gatewood and Wright will be starting all over again as freshmen, going up against older players.

"But with their work ethic — they work pretty hard in the weight room, and they just love football — I would not be surprised as freshman if they're on the field on special teams, depending on positions, how deep they are and what those universities have back," Zimmerman said. "I expect them to have really good, solid college careers and be on the field and contribute and do well in college like they did in high school."

Andy Scheidler may be contacted at 812-663-3111 ext. 217401 or