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On a hot summer day, several Cottonwood High School football players are toiling on their field, laying artificial turf along the sidelines. On the other side of the school's campus, teenagers are in the indoor baseball practice facility, working on their swings. Also occupied is the freshly painted and newly stocked weight room.

Scott Cate wanders in between it all in shorts, a T-shirt and a baseball cap. He smiles with satisfaction.

"This is what I wanted, to give these guys a place to hang out," he says. "We don't have that many places where they can do this anymore."

Cate is a multimillionaire - he won't divulge exactly how much he is worth - who has turned Cottonwood High's athletic facilities into premier venues.

To some, he is a savior who has taken their children, many of whom struggle with school work, and given them a place to hang out where they can hone their athletic skills and focus on their academic goals in the tutoring program he runs.

To others, he is a meddling father who uses his money to recruit players so his son Alex, the Colts' junior starting quarterback, is surrounded by talented athletes.

To his friends, he is a modern-day Forrest Gump, a guy who started out as a telemarketer scraping to pay bills.

Now, he is rich enough to do whatever he wants, but he spends most of his days on a tractor or lawn mower working under a blazing sun at the school in eastern Murray, improving the facilities of a school he feels close to - so close that he recently scattered his father's ashes on its football field.

"Doing this is more rewarding than sitting on a board for charity," says Cate, who also volunteers as a coach. "All of the kids know me, and I even get to yell at some."

Cottonwood, a Class 5-A school in the shadow of Mt. Olympus, is an older school in an aging neighborhood. Consequently, the school's enrollment has fallen in recent years.

Athletically, the Colts have struggled in the major sports, giving way to nearby powers such as Olympus and Skyline, schools with traditionally good programs that often attract promising athletes.

But the athletic future of Cottonwood is changing, with its programs becoming more competitive in recent years. Its volleyball team is consistently one of the best in 5-A. Its football team was a preseason top-five pick this year, but has gone 4-2. Still, last year's team won only three games.

The Utah High School Activities Association has seen transfer requests to Cottonwood increase as well. Last year, there were 20 requests, according to UHSAA executive director Evan Excell, an increase from six in the two years before. (Cottonwood still isn't the leader; the UHSAA received 28 transfer requests to Skyline, 22 to Mountain View and 15 to Juan Diego last year).

What is the attraction of Cottonwood? Just take a walk around its campus. The baseball field has its own locker room, practice facilities and adjoining snack bar. The weight room rivals many colleges for its top-notch machines and several sets of free weights. Looming over the pristine football field is a new three-story press box, complete with several offices for the coaches, a film room and a computer room. At the south end is a new large scoreboard.

And almost all of it was paid for, or made from donations gathered, by Cate. His interest in Cottonwood stems from his son Alex's involvement on the school's football and baseball teams.

Cate says he sees his efforts as merely a way to give back to his son's community. "Thirty years from now, this will still be here," he says of the athletic complex.

While Cate says his motivations are pure, others aren't so sure. Rival coaches call the school "Catenwood," for the money and influence its top booster has.

As the facilities have grown, so have the allegations that Cate is recruiting athletes from schools around the valley, including Hunter, East, West Jordan, Alta and Highland.

According to Highland coach Ray Groth, who says he lost one ninth-grader to Cottonwood, Cate was the topic of discussion at the high school coaches' meeting in the spring.

"There is just too much going on out there," Groth says. "You try to put together a good program, but you can't compete against it, not when they have a program with all the bells and whistles. It is the place to go. Losing one kid doesn't hurt too much, but if I start to lose more, when my enrollment is going down, it turns my program on its ear."

Cate says he has done nothing wrong, and has merely created an environment where hard work is rewarded.

"There is a lot of whining about recruiting, but recruiting is the one thing I don't need to do," Cate says. "We have open enrollment, and we want to attract students here, but we want them to come here and be about classroom work."

Cate's philosophy is shared by Cottonwood Principal Garett Muse, who says five years ago, Cottonwood didn't have enough girls soccer players to field a junior varsity team.

"When your school isn't winning athletically like Skyline, Brighton and Olympus, schools that have great athletes and academics, you have to come up with some ideas," Muse said. "One of the ideas was to create a first-class program. . . . We don't want to recruit, but we want a program where students think Cottonwood is a great place to go to school. We don't want to do anything illegal, but we want a program that has a great reputation."

Cate hasn't always had money to spend as he chooses. The 40-year-old grew up as the son of a high school football coach in California. His late father, Dick, never gave him anything, always making him earn his way in life.

"I hated him then," Cate says. "But not now."

Cate earned a football scholarship to the University of Utah, and after graduating, he took the only job he could find: telemarketing.

With his wife, Michele, he lived in a crummy apartment on 300 West, sleeping on a thin foam mattress and working the phones to earn a dollar a sale.

For dinner, he walked down to the 7-Eleven for hot dogs.

Cate gradually worked his way up through the Access Long Distance company until he became the president. Five years ago, he sold the company and walked away with enough money to live a life most only dream of enjoying.

He has a big house and big toys, including a 15-passenger jet, a 7,000-square-foot yacht, a speedboat that can push 192 mph, and a 4,000-square-foot houseboat on Lake Powell that was recently featured on the Travel Channel.

"I still don't know how that happened," he says. "I was sitting there the other night watching a show on boats, and they were in my houseboat. I don't know how they got in there."

Amusements, yes, but Cate insists his real fun is his involvement in his foundation, the Cate Family Foundation.

He built Salt Lake Community College's $2.5 million baseball facility - named Cate Field - and quietly gives to other charities. But Cottonwood draws most of the attention.

Cate says he is honoring his father through the work. Rather than just doling out money here and there, he has created a system to encourage students to help themselves.

Cate touts the after-school program he started, which is overseen by former Utah player Jason Kaufusi. It is open to athletes and nonathletes, but all those who fail to show or don't meet requirement standards are treated alike.

"We've taken guys who had four Fs and helped them get a 3.2 GPA and give them a good chance at getting to college," he says. "The same kids might be stealing your car because they have nothing to do. Here, they get dropped off at 7 a.m. and they are here until 6 p.m."

Even his own son doesn't get a break. Just like his father before him, Alex hasn't gotten anything for free - and Alex still doesn't own a car.

"He treats me normal," Alex Cate says. "I still have to wash the cars and clean the house."

The Cates' world, though, is different. How many people can afford to build a golf course in Boston, have it designed by Ben Crenshaw, and then fly there on a private jet to play?

"I'm just giggling around here," Cate says of his life.

Regardless of the fun times, the money has brought suspicion, too. He has heard stories, such as how he flies families of players to Vegas for expense-paid weekends, how he paid the city a $10,000 fine on the spot for breaking building code violations when he built the baseball facility, and how he pays for apartments so star players can live within Cottonwood's boundaries.

"All wild rumors," he says.

He is defended by Tom Jones, Cottonwood's head football coach.

"We want Cottonwood to be the best school it can be, and that is what is happening," Jones said. "We want students to come here, but for academics and things like that. We used to have four or five players who were ineligible. Last year, everyone was eligible."

Splashing cash around is one thing, but Cate defends his spending habits by being personally involved. On a typical Sunday, he is at Cottonwood cutting the grass on a practice field or off with a summer baseball team. He says he coached 167 baseball games last year.

"Everyone thinks this is done with just money, but my butt is out here working 40 hours a week," Cate said. "I've told coaches in other sports I'd help them, just give me one parent to help out two hours a week, but no one has stepped up."

With that, Cate is off to supervise work on the football field, but not before imparting one last bit of advice.

"Coaches are [angry] at me because I happen to spend my money in a public school system," Cate says. "I don't get it. Instead of whining, go spend two hours cutting the grass."

Scott Cate

* Birthplace:

Cambria, Calif.

* College:

Backup quarterback at University of Utah, 1982-85.

* Career:

President, Access Long Distance.

* Current:

Member of Cottonwood High football coaching staff since 1999.