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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 05, 2018 1:00 am

Snider grad Bates carries NFL dreams

Safety excelled in his 2 years playing at Wake Forest

KYLE ROWLAND | For The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – More than five years had elapsed since Jessie Bates set foot inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

On that November day in 2012, Bates and his Snider teammates saw their dreams of an undefeated season and state championship evaporate. On an early March day in 2018, the 21-year-old former Wake Forest safety returned for the NFL scouting combine and the next chapter of his life.

“I always knew what I was capable of,” Bates said. “A lot of people didn't know who I was. I knew I was under the radar. For kids out there that are being doubted right now, they should believe in themselves. A key part of being successful is envisioning yourself being successful. You have to execute and put in the work. Some people still don't know who I am. My goal is to make sure people do know who I am, not even just as a football player, but off the field as well.”

After redshirting in 2015, Bates made an immediate impact for the Demon Deacons as a redshirt freshman and as a sophomore. Bates was a freshman All-American after recording 100 tackles, an ACC-leading 70 solo tackles and five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. He missed two games in 2017 with a sprained MCL and still managed 79 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and one interception.

Bates ended his career in style in Wake Forest's Belk Bowl victory over Texas A&M with seven tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown.

“Jessie Bates is Jessie Bates,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said succinctly last season.

Despite producing noteworthy numbers, Bates played only two seasons and 23 games. So it came as a surprise when he opted to turn pro, a decision Bates described as “very difficult.” Some scouts believed another year at Wake Forest would have benefited him as a player and improved his draft stock. Still, he's projected to be selected in the second to fourth round.

“I didn't want to lose some of the best friendships I've created over the years at Wake Forest and didn't want to let down the fans,” Bates said. “But after doing a bunch of research and looking at the top 10 safeties in the NFL, seven of them weren't first-round picks. I think I made a great decision. I feel very confident.”

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah deemed Bates a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

“Bates is outstanding,” Jeremiah said. “Movement and burst; excellent awareness and ball skills. And he's tough.”

The visions began forming at Snider, where Bates hopes to host a draft party. When his name is called in April, the ambitions conjured up 15 years ago will have come full circle.

In high school, the three-star recruit originally committed to Toledo before Clawson recommended a late trip to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It just felt like the right place for Bates.

“The players that get a very high rating are guys who go to the camps,'' Clawson said. “Jessie played football. He played baseball. He played basketball. He was a three-sport athlete, so he didn't get all the recruiting attention that just a football player would get who goes to every one of those different combines.

“We saw a guy who had a great senior year; who was a great basketball player, and who was a really good baseball player. Sometimes those guys become the best football players because once they get to college and just focus on football, their improvement is really good.”

As a senior, Bates earned first-team Class 5A All-State honors after he tied NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson's school record of nine interceptions. He weighed 185 pounds and ran a 4.8 40-yard dash.

His playing weight in 2017 was 191 pounds, and he ran the 40 in 4.52 seconds. At the combine, Bates weighed 200 pounds after gaining 10 pounds of muscle mass in January and February. He runs the 40 today.

Measurables aren't the only story at the combine, however. The event has become famous – or infamous – for the quirky and oftentimes kooky questions posed by front office personnel. It's all part of the process, though it does contain plenty of worthy queries.

“I just want them to know what kind of man I am off the field and my character,” Bates said. “I'm an accountable person, and I can make an impact wherever they want me to. I want to show them the real me and show them what I've been doing since I was 6 years old.”