Each Wednesday during the Texas high school football regular season, I'll be featuring players who, going into their senior year, lack scholarship offers and/or remain under the radar of most college recruiters, for whatever reason. These guys may not light the world on fire at the FBS level, but I'm a fan of all of them and believe they're good enough to warrant more attention than they have received up to now. Our Unheralded Player of Week One is Belton wide receiver Derick Bates, the son of a former Division I defensive back. As a junior he lead the talent-rich Waco-Temple-Killeen area in receptions and receiving yards, but he hasn't received any college offers and has been overshadowed as a prospect by some of his own teammates.
Most of the college coaches who have made the trip to Belton High School in the past year have gone there to see stud tight end Durham Smythe. Smythe is only the third Belton Tiger to receive three or more stars from Rivals in the past 10 years, and in a few months he will become the third of those three to sign with Texas (Ramonce Taylor and David Ash are the other two). In terms of pure football potential he is the clear headliner among Belton's senior class, but he has a few teammates who colleges will likely be watching and evaluating this fall.
Kyle Battle (6'1" and 185 lbs.) was a 1st team all-district cornerback as a junior. Middle linebacker Ryan Stinson (charitably listed as 6' and 220 lbs.) was also an all-district 1st teamer after recording 114 tackles in Belton's 11 games (he was credited with 24 in one game alone: a loss to district opponent Copperas Cove). Austin Farr (6'5" and 250 lbs.) has a good frame for the offensive tackle position and though he's not really a mauler his footwork and technique look good enough that he should get some DI or DII looks.
Belton has a handful of Unheralded Player of the Week candidates, but my personal favorite is senior wide receiver Derick Bates, Jr. His name may sound familiar to longtime central Texas high school football fans because his father, Derick Bates Sr., starred on Temple High School teams that won the Class 5A Division II state championship in 1992 and advanced to the state semifinal round in 1993 before losing to eventual state champions Lewisville. Derick Bates the Elder was also 2nd team all-state defensive back as a senior and a member of the Austin American-Statesman's Fab 55 recruiting list for the class of 1994, and later played for four years at BYU.
Derick Bates the Younger is not rated nearly as high in his class. In fact he may not even be rated among the top 55 Texas seniors at his own position. The Rivals database lists 110 profiles for Texas high school wide receivers in the current senior class, and 42 of them have been rated by the site's evaluators. (This doesn't include the numerous "athlete" prospects who will end up playing wide receiver in college.) Bates does not even have a Rivals profile, though his four aforementioned teammates all do.
His lack of recognition certainly didn't come by a lack of stats. Bates led the Waco-Temple-Killeen area in receptions (44) and receiving yards (792) in 2011, averaging 18 yards per catch and scoring 6 touchdowns. His stated goal for his senior year is to have 100 catches or at least 1,000 yards.
At 6' and 205 lbs. he has good size for the wide receiver position, good genes, and a very productive junior year under his belt. But what is likely holding him back is his top-end speed, or lack thereof. His best 40 time is 4.68, according to his head coach. Looking at him on film it's clear that he's no Eldridge Massington or Robbie Rhodes in terms of pure track speed, but he does enough other things well enough that I hope he gets a chance to play somewhere.
Though Bates is far from an elite athlete, he shows a nice variety of skills in his junior highlight video. He is shown lining up mostly outside but occasionally in the slot. In the very first clip he runs a 15 yard comeback route, sees that the tight end has already caught the pass, and throws a block at an incoming safety that buys the receiver an extra five yards. In the next clip he lines up on the left as the H receiver in a five-wide set and gets open on a simple slant route for an 18 yard reception. Then on successive plays he lines up as the left outside receiver in a four-wide set and gets first down yardage on a 10 yard drag route and a 10 yard out route.
He runs a variety of routes out of multiple formations, makes catches going across the middle of the field, holds onto the ball after taking a hard hit (see play at 0:43), makes a catch even after slipping while going into his break on what looked like an attempted flag route (see play at 1:01), and throws a hard downfield block reminiscent of the legendary Quan Cosby-Lendy Holmes collision in the 2008 RRS (see play at 1:07). And despite not having great speed he goes deep for downfield passes on consecutive plays starting at 1:16. Later at 3:36 he's the lone receiver on the left in a four-wide set and runs what looks like a simple fly route down the left sideline before making a leaping catch 30 yards later between two defenders.
Several of this class's top rated receivers do not show such a varied array of routes and tough catches in their highlights. I'm a fan of Robbie Rhodes (clearly) and love his athleticism and pure speed, and though he makes some terrific catches most of his junior highlights feature him just running down the field, catching deep balls and outrunning defenders to the end zone, without much variety in the routes. The same could be said for Eldridge Massington. I'm not saying I'd pick Bates over either of them, but if Rhodes or Massington put their athletic ability to full use and ran the variety of routes Bates does, they would be ranked higher than they are (which is already high to begin with).
That said, Bates's middling speed will be what keeps him from getting a higher level of recognition and offers. And for all the tough catches he makes and numerous routes he runs, it's unknown how well he gets open against press coverage, as the defensive backs lined up in front of him were rarely within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage. He may be best suited for a third or fourth receiver role on a spread offense team, where he wouldn't be the secondary's primary focus and could take advantage of the softer coverage to get open on short routes, find open space against zone looks, and move the chains with slants across the middle and a curl route here and there.
While fans love to have the Jaxon Shipleys, Mike Davises, Jake Olivers, and Marcus Johnsons of the receiving world on their team and attacking opposing secondaries and making dazzling plays, every coach loves to have a blue-collar type like Derick Bates in their receiving corps, one who will do the little things and make the unspectacular but important 7 yard catch on 3rd-and-5, or haul in a pass going across the middle while taking a hit and holding onto the ball. Kind of like a poor man's Billy Pittman.
Belton's head coach, Rodney Southern, says several schools (he did not name them or specify if they were D1 or D2) have shown a strong interest in Derick Bates but he currently has no offers. It would not be surprising if he has 1,000 yards receiving his senior season but is passed on by D1 schools because of his lack of great top-end speed. If he did end up making a D1 roster and doing well for his team, he certainly wouldn't be the first receiver with below-average speed to enjoy success at that level. If he signs with a D2 program then that team will get a player who does most anything a coach could ask a receiver to do (though he won't be doing those things with 4.5 speed).
He's not a three-star prospect and may not even be a two-star, but I'm a fan and I hope he gets a chance to show what he can do against college secondaries, be they Division I or lower. For anyone interested in watching Derick Bates, future Longhorn Durham Smythe and the rest of the 2012 Belton Tigers in person, I've included their schedule below.
September 7 - at Round Rock Stony Point
September 14 - vs. Bryan
September 21 - vs. Round Rock
September 28 - at Killeen Harker Heights
October 5 - vs. Killeen Ellison
October 12 - at Temple
October 19 - vs. Copperas Cove
October 26 - at Killeen
November 2 - vs. Killeen Shoemaker
November 9 - at Waco Midway
previous Unheralded 2013 Players of the Week:
week zero: Collin Bowen, QB (Canyon Randall)