"I came off my mission at about 255 and I weighed in this morning at 231," Bates said. "Last year I was playing around 245."
Bates credits Mendenhall in helping him to realize the player he needed to be and how to get there. It started with changing his weight. "Coach Mendenhall helped me realize that being 250, I just wasn't moving as fast as I could," Bates explained. "So he told me that I had two options. I could either put on as much weight as I could and play nose guard or I could lose a bunch of weight and play linebacker. I chose linebacker."
Has it been hard to keep the weight off? "Oh, it's been tough," he said with a laugh. "Fortunately there is a lot of conditioning that is demanded of us to help keep it down and I'm eating a lot less."
So far this spring, Bates' weight loss has paid dividends as he is seeing almost exclusive reps with the 2's at middle linebacker. He started out with the 3's, but Bates does not want to know where he is playing or how he is doing.
"My whole life I've been an underdog," Bates said. "I just know one way and that is to keep my head down and just function with three things that I've been doing my whole life. That being hard work, focus and determination. I don't worry about anything else because it will all work out. I can't worry about what I'm doing on the field, I can't let up for any reason."
Those three things seem to match perfectly with what Mendenhall demands of his players. Bates is a walk-on who is earning his stripes as he looks to contribute this season. Regarding Bates, Mendenhall simply said, "Dan brings a full commitment with just enough abililty."
Bates said the he has been able to move better and more quickly with because of the weight he has taken off. He is also realizing that the more weight he loses the faster he will be. But the change in diet has not been easy.
"I served a mission in Tonga," he said. "We were eating 6000 to 7000 calories a day, so I've had to come down a lot from that."
Even though Bates is a walk-on, he would not have it any other way. "I like it that way," he said. "I have nothing to lose. Once you get a scholarship you slow down and get comfortable. I can't get comfortable being a walk-on. Every single practice I have a goal and I feel I have to work just that much harder than everyone else."
Bates plays behind middle linebacker Cameron Jensen, who is currently going through spring practice with a broken big toe. Jensen is an inspiration to Bates and his teammates. "Just having a guy like that as your leader who is practicing that hard and playing through being hurt just lifts you up so much," Bates said. "It's just awesome to have Cameron as a guy I can learn from and follow his example."
Bates raved about his fellow linebackers. "We're going to be really strong this year at linebacker," he said. "People know about Jensen, but the other guys like Aaron [Wagner], Richard Nehring and even guys like Jayson Clark are going to help us so much to become a balanced and dominate unit."
Bates also has the distinction of being one of two players to win the off-season "Ultimate Warrior" award (the other was Justin Carlson-Maddux). "It's an award for everything," Bates explained. "It factors in GPA, community service, conditioning and all your lifts. It's based on a point system and it factors in your weight. If you do that amount of lifts, then you get a certain number of points. If you do this amount of community service, then you get a set number of points and so on. There's a standard set for each weight class and if you reach that point scale you get the award."
So Bates is a pretty smart guy that combines a high GPA with outstanding workouts and lots of community service, right?
"I get decent grades," he said. "I just work hard. I don't know if that has to do with being bright, I just give it my all and go from there."