A victim of the NCAA's crackdown on ephedra, Bates tested positive for the banned substance after using an over-the-counter supplement ("Ripped Fuel") which contained ephedra but did not list it in the ingredients.
Bama fans were outraged at the severity of the punishment, which not only forced Bates to sit out the season but also took away a year's eligibility. But after an understandable period of anger, Bates focused on the future.
"I'm still looking at it as a positive thing," Bates told BamaMag.com in an interview. "I knew that it was essential for me to keep that attitude."
Last season while his teammates endured a disappointing season, all Bates could do was cheer them on individually and work on the scout team defense to keep them sharp. Since he wasn't eligible to play, Bates couldn't even stand on the sidelines during games. "I went to every game that wasn't on TV," he related. "I went to the Oklahoma game, too. All the other games I watched on television."
But when frustration set in, he worked that much harder in the weight room and on the practice field.
"I've worked to get stronger in all my lifts," he explained. "I've also had the chance to work on my speed. On Saturdays I had time to work out a little extra. I tried to make the year count."
Making the lost year even tougher to swallow, through no fault of his own Bates has yet to have a full season to show what he can do. He was the only true freshman in 2001 to crack the regular playing rotation, but he was not fully healthy that season, still recovering from shoulder surgery prior to college.
The following off-season he suffered terribly from a serious groin injury that refused to heal. Finally, he underwent surgery, which was successful. But most expected him to sit out the next season recovering. At the start of fall camp that year Bates often had trouble walking. But he never gave up, and each day he seemed to improve a little bit more. By the start of 2002, Bates was able to play. He participated in all 13 games that year, contributing 28 tackles and two sacks to that 10-3 squad. But frankly Bates was never completely healthy.
Then came 2003 and the NCAA suspension.
As for Bates, he's determined that his final season at Alabama will be his best.
"I still see I have a long way to go," he commented. "I want to reach my top potential, whatever that is. I may never reach my top potential, but I'm going to continue to work hard. I want to be as close as I can be."
Forced to give up an entire season because of an oversight, most athletes would be bitter. But Tide Head Coach Mike Shula noted that Bates was a positive force on the team all year.
"Todd's attitude (was) awesome," Shula said. "He showed a lot of leadership in that role just by showing up everyday, not complaining and giving great effort.
"I don't know if I could have done what he did."
Bates is grateful for the support shown by the Tide staff. "My coaches have complimented me on how well I've handled the situation and how hard I've continued to work through it all. I'm thankful that they were that understanding of my situation. They've supported me."
Besides working overtime on his conditioning, Bates used the fall semester to get ahead on some of his courses. A Business Management major, Bates's parents instilled a respect for education.
"I took Stats 260, Accounting 210, Macro-Economics, Human Development and Family Resource Management," he said, listing last semester's work. "That's 15 hours. I was trying to get as many classes out of the way as I can, so I could be that much ahead."
But wait a minute. Didn't Todd get the memo about how football players are supposed to be dumb?
"No, I take my schooling seriously," Bates replied laughing. "I take it as seriously, if not more so, than what I do on the football field. I try to spend a lot of time studying."
His education last fall wasn't confined to the classroom. Bates also spent his forced sideline time to study his fellow linemen.
"We had a lot of good D-Ends, but they all did different things well," he explained. "I try to learn everything I can from everybody."
It wasn't nearly as good as being out there with them, but Bates learned as much as he could last season from observing his teammates. "I kind of enjoyed getting to watch the guys playing in front of me, like Antwan Odom, Nautyn McKay-Loescher, Mark Anderson, those guys. I was able to learn a lot from those guys, just sitting and watching. I've been able to improve by watching the things they did well."
There was one ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark season. Oft-injured during his career, Bates used 2003 to put most of his health problems behind him.
He explained, "I've had time to get my shoulder healed up. My groin is as good as it's been since I had the surgery. By spring training it should be 100 percent. I rarely have pain from the injury now. I only have pain on certain lifts, but even that is going away with time."
A healthy Todd Bates will be a favorite to win one of the starting jobs at defensive end, which will be very important to Alabama in 2004.
Shula commented, "Todd is in a position to make a contribution next year--a big contribution."