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"I almost gave up": NC A&T football player signs with CFL

North Carolina A&T defensive lineman Justin Cates signed to play football with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Credit: Justin Cates

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Many of us have faced struggles during the pandemic in some way. Imagine being an athlete trying to make it to the next level in a time when the sports world was uncertain. After a little bit of patience, a North Carolina A&T football player's dreams finally come true.

NC A&T beat Alcorn State in the Celebration Bowl a season ago. It was the final game as an Aggie for defensive lineman Justin Cates.

"Pro day was the first thing on my mind," said Cates. Then I got invited to the HBCU combine, the first-ever. I was excited and then everything went down.”

 The pandemic canceled both of those opportunities, which were chances for Cates to show off his talent. 

"It was a really down point in my life," said Cates.

 Since football didn't seem to be working out, he had to find some way to bring in money.

“I got a job at Lowe's," said Cates.

Almost a year later, one text message popped up on his phone, changing everything.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while," said Cates.

A CFL team, the Edmonton Eskimos, asked Cates if he wanted to play football again.

"I had to read it twice," said Cates. "I didn’t believe it at first. As soon as he sent the contract over, I signed it immediately I didn’t play no games. Me and my agent signed it immediately and sent it over.”

Cates said it was a big relief to know the work he's been putting in since he was 5 years-old is now paying off.

"I almost gave up," said Cates. "I thought the dream was over but mom and dad always told me to always keep the faith and pursue your dreams. I just stuck with it. I stayed the course and the benefits came for me. I'm just excited as you can tell.

Cates said he plans to report to camp in May.