Tate obtained a medical redshirt to play another season with the Terps. Switched to a slightly different linebacker spot in a new 3-4 defensive scheme, he struggled physically.

"When you injure one part of your body, your body compensates for it," Tate says. "So I had a minor complication with my left knee."

Tate signed on after the season with an agent, Chad Wiestling, a former Maryland football player. "I took a chance on him. I'm a Maryland Terp," Wiestling says. "Love him to death."

But he went undrafted and no team opted the sign him as a free agent — including the Ravens, who were among the teams to scout him in college.

"You feel for him because he's had a lot of injuries," says Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. "I think he's a quality person. I think he's a great player. It's just that the injuries have taken a toll on him. I wish him the best."

Moving on

Steve Suter knows the ache of feeling a promising career being slowly, steadily hijacked by injuries before it could reach an NFL payday. Now 31, the former Maryland receiver-returner has been told he'll eventually need two knee replacements, and his football these days is confined to a game of touch on the weekends.

A decade before Tate's final season, Suter was one of college football's most dynamic punt returners. Fans would sometimes lose sight of the 5-9 Suter as he weaved between bigger bodies on long returns. He returned six punts for touchdowns during 2002 and 2003.

But injuries had diminished him by the time his opportunity came for a pro career in 2005. He had torn a hamstring, broken a hand and had a plate and six pins inserted into his left index finger. He had four knee surgeries between 2001 and 2004.

Suter didn't make the NFL and had only a brief Canadian Football League career that ended with a broken collarbone.

"I guess every year I got slower," says Suter, now a commercial insurance salesman in Washington, D.C.

Suter — who has met Tate but doesn't know him well — says he wishes he could be encouraging to Tate about moving past football. But the truth is, Suter, who is married with a young daughter, never quite got over the sense that his football life was incomplete.

"I wanted to get to the pinnacle," says Suter, who, like Tate, believes that college athletes should be paid. "I saw my buddies in the NFL who I thought I was comparable with. I'd be lying to you if I said I was over it. If he [Tate] finds the answer, I would like to be sitting on the couch next to him."

Tate and Suter join a long list of top college athletes who have endured injuries before they could cash in on their athletic talents. In 2011, Tate watched another all-conference Maryland star — middle linebacker Alex Wujciak — fail in his NFL bid after enduring serious knee injuries in college.

Tate and Wujciak "were two of the best," said quarterback and former teammate Danny O'Brien, now playing for North Carolina's Catawba College and also hoping for an NFL shot.

According to the NCAA, there were more than 41,000 reported football injuries across the association's 633 teams from 2004 to 2009. Half of the injuries were to players' legs.

A fraction of mostly big-name players — such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — take out insurance policies to protect their financial interests in case of severe injuries while in school.

Asked if he had considered such a policy, Tate replied: "Didn't know I could."

The NCAA sponsors an insurance policy, but it only kicks in after career-ending injuries. Tate's injuries may not have qualified even though they have clearly damaged — perhaps ruined — his prospects.

'Football is like life'