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September 3, 2009
Underrated, underappreciated no more
A freshman, three months removed from high school, arrives on a college campus, an SEC campus, 30 days shy of the season opener and locks up a starting job before game week.
Not many players could do that. Daren Bates, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound safety at Auburn, is one of the few.
Bates didn't arrive on the Plains until Aug. 6, nearly two months later than most of his fellow signees, because of a late decision by the NCAA Clearinghouse. His first practice with the Tigers came the following day.
Less than a month and 25 practices later, he'll start for Auburn Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
Not bad for a player whose only scholarship offer one week from Signing Day was from Arkansas State. Not bad for a player regarded as a two-star recruit by recruiting services including Rivals.com.
Olive Branch (Miss.) head coach Scott Samsel, Bates' high school coach, said he's one of the few not surprised by Bates' quick rise to the top at Auburn. Samsel admits he was taken aback by the lack of attention from bigger colleges, the lack of respect from the recruiting services, Bates received following a standout senior season.
"At this point in my career, I've seen enough ball players to know what one looks like," said Samsel, who's had six players in the last three years sign football scholarships with programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision. "It kind of makes you wonder about who's assigning the stars when Daren is a two-star.
"You can take any film from last year's season, any of the 13 games, regardless of who we are playing, and it won't take you long to figure out he's a player. You will see No. 3 (Bates) flying around on both sides of the ball. You'll see that he's a tremendous competitor. You'll see that he makes plays."
Late in the recruiting process, it was hard for Samsel to understand why no other scholarship offers had arrived.
"I was surprised and so was everyone else around here," said Samsel. "His only offer was from a small school, but to me it wasn't hard to see that he was an SEC-player."
Auburn was Bates' first SEC offer, but the Tigers didn't extend it until the last weekend before Signing Day. According to Samsel, Alabama and Tennessee also offered late, but Bates was already committed to the Tigers.
"When Auburn offered and he committed, I knew they were getting the steal of the class," said Samsel.
Bates signed with Auburn the next week and by the end of the school year planned to report to the Plains in June with the other signees. Those plans were put on hold however, when the Clearinghouse had a concern about a core class and his grade point average. Bates ultimately was cleared, given the go-ahead to move to Auburn, but nearly three months had passed.
He missed Report Day. He missed Auburn's summer training program. He didn't have Auburn's weight room. He didn't have access to any of its facilities. Bates waited on the Clearinghouse's ruling at home in Olive Branch.
According to Samsel, Bates wasn't sitting and waiting. Bates didn't let the delay affect him physically or mentally.
"He didn't do like a lot of seniors do sometimes, let-up. He kept working everyday," the coach said. "Even when things didn't look real good for him, a lot of kids would've tucked their heads and felt sorry for themselves, but not Daren. We work out at 7 a.m. He was there and he kept a positive attitude.
"He prepared himself in the offseason and that is obvious. He worked, and he worked hard. He showed up at Auburn ready to go. He wouldn't have made that kind of progress at Auburn in that short of time if he didn't."
Bates' work ethic off the field is a reason for his success on it, said Samsel. As a senior at safety, Bates had 90 tackles and four interceptions. He rushed for more than 700 yards and 11 touchdowns on offense.
But defense is where Bates belongs, the coach said. It's just his mentality. Auburn senior cornerback Walt McFadden recently compared Bates to former Tiger safety Junior Rosegreen, who was known for unleashing big hits.
Samsel understands McFadden's comparison.
"On both sides of the ball, Daren is ferocious," Samsel said. "If he was coming up to make a hit on defense, he would come out of his shoes. If he had the ball under his arm, he was going to try and run over you. He wasn't much for making a cut. He'd rather run over you.
"He's a very physical guy."
He's also very vocal, at least on the field. Bates isn't afraid to stick his headgear into a ballcarrier's chest. He isn't afraid to tell him he's going to do it, Samsel said.
"He's going to get in your grill and he's going to tell you he's going to get in your grill," said Samsel. "And it's not false chatter. It's not just chit-chat. He plays with a lot of emotion and he expresses it. And it's genuine.
"He's a competitor. He's a winner. He'll come after you, and he'll tell you he's coming after you."
In the locker room and off the field, it's a different story. Bates is more reserved, a little less vocal.
"In the locker room, he's going to echo what the coaches want to have echoed," Samsel said. "That's going to be his mission. He's also always going to do the right thing off the field. You're not going to have to worry about him. He's going to do the right things.
"The kind of person he is speaks volumes about his parents and his upbringing. To me, that's the kind of people you want in your program."
Auburn has Bates in its program now. He hasn't been in it long. Understandably, some Tiger fans may not have heard of him. But he'll have a blue jersey on Saturday night under the lights of Jordan-Hare Stadium. He'll be No. 25. He'll be starting at safety.
And it took him 30 days to do it.