Indiana vs. Wake Forest
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington
TV: Big Ten Network
Before his first collegiate game, Snider graduate Jessie Bates was fired up.
He had redshirted as a true freshman in 2015 and now was set to make his debut, as his Wake Forest team hosted Tulane. He was almost too excited, and with the help of older teammates, Bates settled down, took the field for the first time and proceeded to lead the Demon Deacons in tackles in his college debut.
“I played well, knew my game plan, did my job, not trying to do anything crazy, just doing my job,” Bates said.
Bates started that game at safety for Wake Forest, and currently is tied for the team lead in tackles with 18. That approach of doing his job and not trying to do too much has benefited him through the first three games, all Wake Forest victories.
The Demon Deacons put that 3-0 record on the line at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when they travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana (2-0), in what is a homecoming of sorts for Bates.
He said he has been able to get about 60 tickets for friends and family and is excited to see them and current IU students with whom he grew up in Fort Wayne.
He traveled with the team last year when Wake Forest took on Notre Dame, but Saturday will be the first time he plays in his home state since he was a senior at Snider.
That senior season was what propelled Bates to being a starting safety in the ACC, and Snider coach Kurt Tippmann remembers it well.
“I don’t know, in recent times, if there’s been a senior that’s just exploded as much as he did during his senior year of high school,” Tippmann said. “It was because of his work ethic. Certainly his physical development (played a role), but he just poured his heart and soul into becoming a great football player.”
Bates went from a “gangly” and even “squirrelly” player early in his high school career to one of the most reliable players on the team.
Bates was committed to Toledo throughout his senior season, but his impressive showing brought bigger programs calling, and he flipped to Wake Forest just before Signing Day.
Redshirting last year was beneficial for Bates, as he added strength, learned the playbook and was able to take his time adjusting to the speed of the game in practice.
It was frustrating at times, Bates said, to stand on the sidelines and watch as Wake Forest limped to a 3-9 record. He felt that he could help but understood why the redshirt year was important.
Now, he’s showing that he can indeed help. Wake Forest’s defense, led by Bates and others, ranks among the nation’s top 20 in rushing, passing, total and scoring defense.
“Since he showed up there,” Tippmann said, “he has just continued to excel. It’s not a surprise to us.”
The Demon Deacons face their toughest test yet in IU’s offense Saturday. Bates knows a few of the Hoosiers, and was exchanging texts with Carmel native and senior IU receiver Mitchell Paige this week. They traded a few good-luck wishes but weren’t getting too friendly, as Bates said the conversation was “all business.”
Even with dozens of family and friends likely to be in the crowd, Bates is adopting that same businesslike approach to Saturday’s contest.
“It’ll be a great game,” Bates said. “I don’t want to focus too much on coming home. I really want to just focus on it as another game and help my team get the win.”