Bates Steps Up In Collegiate Debut

Auburn freshman Daren Bates talks about starting in his first collegiate football game.

Auburn, Ala.--When all the post-game interviews were wrapping up following Auburn's 37-13 victory over Louisiana Tech Saturday night at Jordan Hare Stadium, defensive coordinator Ted Roof hugged one of his young standouts and whispered some words of encouragement.

Daren Bates was on the receiving end of Roof's spontaneous gesture.

Roof, and the rest of the Auburn staff recruited by new Tiger head coach Gene Chizik, joined players, fellow coaches, fans and about everybody associated with Auburn football in seeing encouraging signs with the start of the Chizik Era.

Bates, who is one of the newcomers recruited by that staff, stepped into action Saturday night and made a positive difference. With returning returning starter Mike McNeil recovering from a broken bone in his leg suffered during spring practice, the true freshman emerged as a starting safety alongside Zac Etheridge.

What made Bates' rapid journey to the top of the depth chart more unexpected is that he wasn't academically cleared to play for the Tigers until after the start of preseason drills in early August. That meant he couldn't participate in Auburn's summer conditioning program or volunteer workouts where he could spend time with his future teammates.

However, the 5-11, 195-pounder out of Olive Branch, Miss., High School quickly made his mark with an aggressive style while at the same time grasping what he needed to know to play safety.

What Roof and Auburn fans saw against Louisiana Tech was a true freshman playing beyond his years.

With Auburn's lead of 13-10 being threatened early in the third quarter, Bates leaped high to pick off a Ross Jenkins' pass at the Auburn two-yard line.

Three plays later, Auburn quarterback Chris Todd connected with Terrell Zachary for the longest touchdown pass in Auburn history that covered 93 yards and gave Auburn a 10-point advantage when moments earlier the Tigers were in jeopardy of surrendering the lead.

Bates could have had an even bigger impact. He wasn't able to hold on to a Jenkins' pass on the first play of the third quarter that might have resulted in an interception return for a touchdown.

"It felt great to get the interception and good to get my first one behind me," Bates says. "I knew I had to redeem myself after the first one I missed. After that, everything was good."

Jenkins says he thought he had a touchdown before his pass was picked off by Bates. "Their safety rolled over late on me," the quarterback notes. "My back was turned most of that play and when I turned around I saw that our receiver had the corner beat and I didn't see the safety. I thought I had a one-on-one, but the safety was right there to pick if off."

Bates' night wasn't without some nervous moments. "It did take a few series for me to settle down," he admits. "By the second half it was getting better, but in the first half I had to calm down and make sure I got my keys and my reads right."

How does Bates grade his first college game?

"I'd give myself a C," he says. "That's passing, but I've got to get better. I know Coach is going to get me better and my teammates will help me get better."

Bates and the rest of the team have Sunday off and will return to the practice field on Monday night after studying video of how they played vs. Louisiana Tech.

"This first game is a big steppingstone, but this is the SEC and we'll have to get better as we go on," Bates adds. "That's why we practice because practice makes perfect and that's where we are trying to get."

Daren Bates

The SEC is exactly what Bates will find out about when Mississippi State visits Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday. There will be a lot on the line for Bates and the Tigers.

"I've got a couple of friends that go there (Mississippi State)," the Auburn freshman says. "One of my teammates from high school, K.J. Wright, is a linebacker for them. We'll see how that works out."

So far it has worked out extremely well for Bates as a rare true freshman starter on the Auburn defense, but he plans on getting better after registering three tackles and an interception in his first college game. Now, he has some game experience to complement all those days of practice and film study. That can only be a plus.

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