When Auburn Linebacker Daren Bates was growing up in Memphis, Tennessee he liked to run a lot … run and collide with objects. “That was always me,” Daren said, “When I was little, just run around, hit stuff and keep going.” He learned to perfect his collision skills when he started playing little league football.
At 5′ 10″ and 210 lbs. Bates is small for a D1 linebacker. But Daren has always been undersize; “Ever since I was little, I was smaller than everybody else. I had to be aggressive. That’s what I like to do.” And aggressive best describes the man that may well be the leader of the Auburn Defense in 2011.
However, Bates was not recruited by the big schools when he was in high school despite playing for Mississippi’s famous Olive Branch High School just south of Memphis. He was not even listed on most recruiting sites until right before signing day and then he was only rated as a two star athlete. If it had not been for Assistant Coach Trooper Taylor seeing him play basketball while on a recruiting trip to Olive Branch, he would not be a Tiger today.
Coach Chizik said, “There are always those under-the-radar guys. We really went into some in-depth conversations with his coach and it was my belief that he was very under-recruited. Just by looking at his body and watching him play basketball, we thought that he was one we definitely needed to take a chance on and it’s paid off.”
After he inked his scholarship Daren still had a hurdle to overcome. He wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until a full two months after the other recruits had been going through summer workouts. Yet, it didn’t take much time for him to make his presence felt when he arrived on the third day of fall practice.
He immediately made an impression on the coaching staff. Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof was quoted as saying that even though Bates was having to play catch up, he was impressive right off the bat,
“throwing his body around and striking people. He’s a guy, however fast he is, he hits you at that speed. He’s a guy that seems to show up with the ball a lot.”
His play was recognized by the players too. Wide Receiver Kodi Burns said, “”We were in two-a-days and it was like, ‘Who is that guy hitting people like that?‘” When we got to the first couple of games, he was laying people out. When he hits people, you hear it.”
Yes “aggressive” could be Daren’s middle name. In 2009 he made the All-SEC Freshman Team as a safety, recording 70 tackles despite playing most of the season with an injured shoulder. After off season surgery, he was moved to outside linebacker.
Even though he had been a safety, he has always had a head hunters mentality. And the move was a good fit for the human ramming machine as he racked up 48 tackles in 12 games at his new position. Daren may be small for a linebacker but his speed and hitting more than made up for his lack of size.
He has been doing all he can in the off season to gain weight but with the pace and intensity he plays with, it has been a difficult task. Nonetheless there have been outstanding small size linebackers in the past who used their speed and hitting ability to disrupt offensives.
When Bates made the move to linebacker, he said he had to seek a lot of advice from veteran senior Linebackers Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens. Now in his third year, Daren will have to be the one to take on the roll of defensive leader and mentor for the younger players.
And since good leaders teach lessons by their example, one of the biggest lessons the new guys can learn from him is to have a nose for the football and the mentality of an aggressive headhunter.
He has already been schooling opposing offenses the last two seasons. And the major thing opponents have learned about Daren Bates is that …
Sometimes big things come in small packages.