Tate Christian has been encircled by football since he was a child.
He’s since become a student of the game.
From family time to film room sessions with his head coach, Brad Gilbert, Christian has absorbed everything he can.
It allowed him to make a quick transition last season as Tahlequah’s starting quarterback following a long journey from Pauls Valley with his family — his father and Tigers’ assistant coach, Brandon Christian, brother and teammate, Tanner Christian, and mother, Chrissie Christian.
Tate was thrown into the fire as a junior as Gilbert was trying to find a replacement for 2017 Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State quarterback Cayden Aldridge, who had set the school’s career rushing record.
He had started just two games the previous year as a sophomore at Pauls Valley, a Class 3A school.
“It was difficult at first, but Coach Gilbert and the guys really made it easy,” Tate said. “We had a great team last year and great coaches so it really helped.”
“Anytime there’s a transition for anyone involved it can be difficult,” Gilbert said. “I think what made that transition so easy for Tate and Brandon is the character that they have and the quality of people that they are. Tanner came in with that. They’re going to buy into anything you’re trying to do.
“Tate’s a bright young man so it helped him pick up the offense really quick. What impressed me the most about him was even the first week or so last year at this time he couldn’t even practice because Paul’s Valley wasn’t out of school yet. But he was engaged and he learned the offense by watching. He was able to pick it up pretty quick. He’s very high IQ.”
Tate took control of the offense and was a footprint in the Tigers’ 9-2 finish in 2018, one of the top seasons in program history. He matched a single-game school mark with five touchdown passes in just his second start in a week two win over Coweta and finished with 1,434 yards and 15 TDs for the year.
A lot of his football IQ comes from a family that lives and breathes the game.
Tanner is a receiver that Tate gets to interact with directly on the field.
Brandon played tight end on Northeastern State’s 1994 national championship team.
His grandfather, Benny Ballard, won back-to-back state championships in 1982-83 as head coach at Hominy and resides in the OCA Hall of Fame after a 26-year career that included a stop in Claremore.
His uncle, Brad Ballard, is the current head coach at Tuttle, who just won a state title this past season. Brad was also a defensive coordinator on Tulsa Lincoln Christian’s 2009 state championship team and previously coached on the collegiate level at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and Missouri Southern.
That’s a lot of championships in the family circle, and it makes for some fun moments.
“It’s crazy, especially knowing the game and growing up in it,” Tate said. “It was joked that I was born in a locker room. I’ve been around the game my whole life. It really helps because I can get feedback from everybody and they can easily help me. It’s all everybody talks about.”
The situation couldn’t be any better for Brandon, a 1992 graduate of Tahlequah High School and a member of the Tigers’ 12-1 team in 1991.
“It’s really special for me because I went to school here,” said the Tigers’ running backs coach. “It’s pretty special because Tate gets the same experience I had with Coach [Charlie] Cooper. They were building a tradition then and when Coach Gilbert took over he started his own tradition. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to come back is because I wanted that for both of my sons, for Tate and Tanner.”
The biggest advantage for Brandon is having the extra time away from home with his sons.
“One thing that I really, really enjoy is that I get to spend so much more time with Tate and Tanner,” he said. “It’s hard because I expect so much of them, but it’s also special that I get to spend that much more time with them. We’re up here all the time. We’re always with our kids. It’s bonus time. It’s something they love to do, and it’s something I love to do.”
It’s also more time for the Christians to get an even better grasp of Gilbert’s offense.
“We’ve kind of gotten together and went over some things since the winter,” Tate said. “The offense is just so complex and he [Gilbert] makes it really easy to pick up and I really think it plays to our advantage because me and Coach Gilbert are on the same page up top.
“We’re more proficient now. We’re seeing our strengths getting toward the end of spring ball.”
Now, Tate wants nothing more than a picture-perfect ending in his final season.
“We took family pictures one year and my dad, my grandpa and my uncle all had their championship rings on,” he said. “My dad had his national championship ring from Northeastern, my grandpa had his state ring and my uncle had his state ring. They all took a picture with their rings showing and it’s kind of driven me. I want to be in that picture one day.”