Nov. 24, 2010
By Brittany McCormick, MSU Athletic Communications
Senior Aaron Bates is not your usual punter. Along with being the first of his position to be named captain in Michigan State football's 114-year history, he also serves as the team's holder. And then there's his 100-percent completion percentage, going 3-for-3 for 68 yards in his career - good for a pass efficiency rating of 400.4.
"All the trick plays, those are the kinds of the things that I'll always remember," said Bates. "As a punter, not many people remember their pass plays or their fakes, but that is what I enjoy doing and I'm glad Coach Dantonio gives me the opportunity to do that. He has a lot of fun with it."
The former high school quarterback has been a part of three wildly successful trick plays since he has been at Michigan State. He got his first chance to relive his quarterback days when he threw an 18-yard completion to tight end Charlie Gantt on a fake field goal in the 2010 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech.
The two reconnected again on a fake field goal this season - in one of the greatest plays in Michigan State history - when Bates threw a 29-yard pass to Gantt in overtime against Notre Dame, giving the Spartans a thrilling 34-31 victory. He most recently completed a 21-yard pass to Bennie Fowler on a fake punt at Northwestern in MSU's 17-point comeback win over the Wildcats.
Bates' part in the "Little Giants" play against Notre Dame not only changed the outcome of the game, but also gave a spark to Michigan State's season.
"Before the play happened I was just worried about getting it communicated to everybody, so I really didn't have time to think about it," Bates recalled. "So when I threw it and he caught it and I kind of realized that the game was over, I just kind of ran all around the field like a chicken with my head cut off. At the time when I went out there, I didn't realize how big of a moment it was until after it happened. It was so fun."
But as successful as he has been during his stints as quarterback, Bates has also made quite a name for himself with his punting skills. This season he has recorded a total of 46 punts for 2,075 yards and averages 45.1 yards per punt, which ranks second in the Big Ten and 13th in the nation. Bates kicked his career-high punt of 69 yards this season in Michigan State's 34-17 win over Michigan.
"This year has been great," said Bates. "All that hard work has paid off. It all starts when you first get here and you just want to be on the team and you just want to do your part. As you do better and keep getting better and improving, you want to be the best at what you do. That has been my journey and as a team it has been the same way."
The New Concord, Ohio, native has been moving up in Michigan State's record books since his freshman year in 2007. Bates is ranked second in MSU history with 249 career punts and 10,417 punting yards, and seventh with a 41.8-yard career average.
"When I take the field I pretty much I see what I need to do, what direction I need to kick it, what the wind is doing," explained Bates. "Mainly I just try to relax and try not to think about anything. I try to clear my head because usually when I am nice and clear that is when I kick best."
Bates began his football career in seventh grade after playing soccer for a number of years. Throughout high school, he played baseball, basketball and dabbled in a variety of positions on his football team. Along with being his high school punter and quarterback, Bates also kicked field goals and played defensive back. It was his skills as a punter though that caught the eye of Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio.
"Coach Dantonio was a big reason why I chose to play at Michigan State," said Bates. "Also being able to play as a freshman was a big reason and I thought that Michigan State had a little bit of everything that I wanted. They had good football, good academics, great campus. So it was just a little bit of everything."
Bates has taken advantage of everything that MSU has been able to offer. The four-year starter not only excels on the football field, but also in the classroom. Continuing his academic excellence from high school (he graduated with a 4.0 GPA), he has been honored as a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar his sophomore and junior years.
"Academics is a big part of my life," Bates said. "I just have been so competitive that I have to do well in that too. My competitiveness carries over into that."
In his four years at Michigan State, Bates has also found time to give back to the community while balancing the rigors of football and academics. Bates participates in the Spartan Buddies program, which allows student-athletes to visit the pediatric ward of Sparrow Hospital and develop relationships with the children. He is also a member of Athletes in Action, which gives student-athletes opportunities to be involved in community outreach programs.
"I love doing community service things like that and that's what you should use your platform for," said Bates. "It's the reason why God has given us this platform to stand on so we can reach out to others and that's kind of been my motto."
Bates will graduate in the spring with a degree in general management. He first is going to see where football takes him before pursuing a career in the sports industry. Bates aspires to continue to be involved in sports, hoping to do something in sports management after graduation, whether it is being an athletic director or working for the NCAA.
Not only will Bates' impressive stats, trick play abilities and work ethic be remembered once he graduates from Michigan State, but his dedication and influence in the community will leave a lasting impact on the Spartan football program.
"MSU football has been a great opportunity and it's something that has changed my life," Bates said. "The discipline, the hard work, the ups and downs, it's all stuff I'll never forget and they will be with me forever."
GETTING TO KNOW Aaron Bates:
FAVORITE SUPERPOWER: "I'm going to go boring, but flying."
FAVORITE CARTOON: Spongebob Squarepants
FAVORITE SEASON: Summer
FAVORITE MEAL HE COOKS: Salmon, brown rice & applesauce.
IF HE COULD LIVE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, IT WOULD BE: New Concord, Ohio
PRE-GAME RITUAL: "I watch Major League 2 the night before every game."
This feature was originally published in the Nov. 20 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine. Statistics in the story updated following the Purdue game on Nov. 20.