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Wednesday, December 26, 2007 | Some stories trigger a tripwire, spreading from newspapers — print and online — to sports talk radio to television to a buzz on Internet message boards.

When October’s wildfires raced through San Diego County, Poway High tight end Ryan Deehan and his family losing their home was such a sports story.

Deehan’s loss put a football face on a tragic week. He’s the No. 2-ranked college tight end prospect in California (No. 24 player overall) by Rivals.com and the No. 2-ranked player overall in San Diego County.

But the tagline to the story flew under the radar. That big kid tagging along with Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates in the locker room following the Bolts’ win over the Baltimore Ravens Nov. 25 was Deehan.

He got a chance to meet his favorite NFL player for no other reason than Gates simply wanted to do something nice for the kid after he saw the ESPN feature on Deehan and the San Diego wildfires.

“It was sweet to go down in the locker room like a real pro and meet some of the other players,” Deehan said. “I thought it was great that he would spend that kind of time with me. I’m sure he has better things to do trying to help his team win games.”

Well, not after he saw Deehan wearing a Chargers’ jersey with Gates’ No. 85 in that ESPN feature.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Ryan,” Gates said. “I can only imagine how tough of a situation that was for him and his family. To see a kid like Ryan stay motivated and stay strong really makes you appreciate everything you have.”

Gates, who was evacuated from his home during the wildfires, contacted Deehan without seeking media attention to invite him to a game.

“A lot of homes were lost and people were heartbroken,” Gates said. “Who knows? If the wind had blown another way, I would have lost my home.”

Deehan saw the Chargers beat the Ravens 32-14 to begin a five-game winning streak for AFC West champion Bolts (10-5) heading into the regular-season finale Sunday at the Oakland Raiders.

At Poway, Deehan and his teammates resumed their season and went on to complete and unbeaten record of 12-0. The Titans defeated Rancho Buena Vista 21-7 in the CIF San Diego Section Division I championship game at Qualcomm Stadium.

“I was proud of our team that we were able to forget what happened and get back to normal on the football field,” Deehan said. “We all missed football that week (practices and games were canceled). It was a good feeling to get back to football.”

Poway coach Damian Gonzalez, who accompanied Deehan to the Ravens game, said they weren’t sure what to expect that afternoon besides the free tickets. As they watched warmups, Gates came by to shake hands, but then he excused himself to prepare for the game.

“At that point we had to go back up in the stands,” Gonzalez said. “I was worried that’s all it would be and Ryan would be disappointed, but then a Chargers PR guy came by and said Antonio wanted Ryan to come down to the field after the game. Antonio gave Ryan a game ball and took him in the locker room for about an hour. Antonio went above and beyond to do something so nice. Ryan was amazed he spent that much time with him.”

One of the subjects Gates and Deehan discussed was recruiting, with Gates advising him to pick the school he felt was the best fit him and his family. Deehan, a 6-foot-4, 228-pounder, recently announced his commitment to Colorado over Oregon and Arizona State.

Although Gates met Deehan this year, another Chargers tight end predicted a college career for Deehan as early as his freshman year during spring football drills in 2005.

Justin Peelle, now with the Miami Dolphins, was serving a coaching internship at Poway while still with the Chargers. Peelle has stayed in touch with Deehan since joining Miami in 2006.

“Justin told me I had ability,” Deehan said, “and it gave me a lot of confidence.”

Deehan is a two-time first-team All-CIF pick, earning the honors based on ability to catch the ball and get deep for a big man as a junior and his blocking ability as a senior.

He caught only 16 passes for 238 yards as senior as a result of the Titans emphasizing the run with a new quarterback. Deehan went along with the coaching decision and says now he realizes the emphasis on blocking will make him a better college tight end.

But Gates says that’s not all that has prepared Deehan for the future.

“”I know that five or six years from now,” he said, “Ryan will be a stronger person for what he’s been through.”

Maybe by then Deehan and Gates will be NFL colleagues — Deehan the young buck and Gates the wily veteran. Deehan will enter the league knowing that some NFL stars aren’t too big to take timeout — under the radar, away from media attention — for a high school kid.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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