East Texas Baptist wide receiver Tyler Bates has played in three games this season and has already accrued 277 receiving yards on 14 catches for an average of 92.3 yards per game. He finished with 193 yards and four touchdowns against Texas College in Week 2, and then followed that performance with 66 yards and three touchdowns against Southwestern.
All told, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior from Alvarado, Texas has collected seven touchdowns and currently stands as the top wide receiver in the nation in that particular category. He’s a man among boys out on the gridiron …
And to think, four years ago he almost quit football completely.
Bates talks in a smooth, relaxed manner. He answers questions with enthusiasm, doesn’t hold back his opinion and is more than happy to talk about his football career. He mentioned how he patterned his game after Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, and one surmises that’s also how he molded his personality. Like the NFL superstar, Bates is engaging, but humble. Confident, but not conceded.
He calls football an enormous blessing, his talents even more so, but admits the journey to achieve his status hasn’t always been easy.
“I had to go out and earn this,” Bates said. “That’s what makes me so proud. Nothing was ever handed to me in the four years I’ve been in college.”
Rewind to December of 2011 — the Texas High School 3A Division 1 Championship game. Chapel Hill leads Alvarado 20-19 with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Bates, a cornerback who led Alvarado’s defense with 30 career interceptions, is lined up as a receiver — a position he switched to earlier in the season when the team’s receiving corps needed a little boost. The quarterback takes the snap and heaves the ball into the air, a beautiful spiral that Bates leaps for and brings down at Chapel Hill’s 21-yard line. It’s an amazing play and one that sets up Alvarado to retake the lead with time winding down.
Then, the worst possible scenario unfolds. On the next play, Alvarado fumbles the football, which is then collected by the Chapel Hill defense. Game over.
It was too much for Bates to handle. All of his hard work, dedication and sacrifice amounted to … a missed opportunity. He walked off the field, no longer sure if he wanted to continue playing the game.
“I was kind of burned out,” he said. “The way we lost completely broke me. I was done with football. I’m a baseball player too, and I had a good chance of taking that farther. I was ready to move on and work on baseball.”
Several things pulled Bates back from the proverbial edge, first and foremost his brothers Marwin and Alton Houston. The duo — just two of Bates’ five siblings — were tremendous football players in high school and, according to Bates, had offers to several D1 colleges. Unfortunately, their luck ran out rather quickly.
“Both of them blew out their knees during their senior year in high school,” Bates explained solemnly. “I honestly felt like it was my duty to keep playing football for them. They were blessed with the talent, but never got going because of their injuries. I’m really the last one to carry out the sports tradition in my family, at least until their kids come. I guess you could say I was the man picked for the job.”
Bates admits that a lingering fear of injuring himself in the same manner as his brothers was something he had to overcome. Luckily, Marvin and Alton were there to offer support.
“They really got in my ear and told me I wouldn’t be playing the game if I didn’t love it,” Bates said. “That really hit me hard. I felt like I was letting them down and was being selfish because I didn’t want to get hurt.”
Even still, it took a little more reassurance for Bates to get back on the field.
“I had a heart to heart with my dad (Willie) who told me he really believed I could be something special,” he recalled. “I prayed about it and felt like the right move was to continue playing football.”
Another factor in Bates’ return to the game was a statement made by his high school coach regarding his future at the receiver position.
“He told me I wouldn’t go anywhere as a receiver because he thought I was too small,” Bates said, laughing. “It’s a friendly rivalry, though. I love the guy to death, and it’s definitely a lot more friendly now that I’ve proven him wrong over the last four years. Now he says he didn’t mean any of it. He was just trying to get me going.”
Bates joined East Texas Baptist in 2012, started all 10 games and finished with 25 catches for 240 yards and one touchdown — results that left him frustrated.
“I had the typical attitude as a freshman,” he said. “I didn’t play a lot the first three games as a freshmen and I was like, ‘Yeah I’m done.’ My best friend (offensive lineman) Charles Williams helped me through a lot of hard times when I was being hard headed. He spoke a lot of words of encouragement for me and kept me on the right track. Now, here I am leading the nation in touchdowns. That’s a blessing that I love.”
Indeed, after the slow start, Bates exploded his sophomore year. He led ETBU in catches, all-purpose yards, punt return yards and kick returns yards in 2013. Last year he was named to the ASC First Team as a receiver after catching 84 passes for 1,156 yards. He also set a single-season ETBU record with 11 touchdown receptions, and set a record for the longest punt return in the program’s history (60 yards). He’s on pace to break his record and then some.
“Tyler really brings two things to the team,” said head coach Joshua Eargle, who has coached Bates for three years. “One, his athleticism is really special. He has amazing hand-eye coordination, the type I haven’t seen in all my years of coaching. He’s able to make a lot of difficult catches really easily. And two, he’s got a lot of experience. He knows how to use his gifts.”
Bates accepts the praise nonchalantly.
“Deep down inside I knew I was capable of being a great receiver, but honestly I’d have to say I’m kind of shocked at my numbers over the past few years,” he said. I didn’t expect to have as much success as I’ve had. But it’s been a really great experience.”
Now in his final year with the team, Bates is poised for even greater success.
“I told myself no matter what I was going out with a bang,” he said. “It’s started off like that, hopefully I can maintain it.”
Intriguingly, Coach Eargle believes Bates will have a tough choice to make come spring. Not only is Bates an excellent football player, but he shines at baseball as well, having played starting center field for ETBU’s team.
“He’ll get drafted in baseball,” Eargle said. “He could play some type of pro football … he’s the prototypical slot receiver, but he’s a terrific baseball player.”
Bates, however, isn’t thinking that far ahead. Right now he’s focused on the task at hand.
“If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll take whatever comes up,” he said. “As of right now I’m just taking it day by day.”