Joshua Bates is a big man going big places. In the final week of his sophomore year, the Durango High School football star has found himself in rare company.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound center had a special 48 hours Thursday and Friday, as he received scholarship offers from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the University of Oregon following the Demons’ 2020 state championship season and a winter and spring loaded with exceptional performances at showcases around the country.
“It’s a blast, I tell you what. It’s pretty special,” said Bates, son of April and Justin Bates. “The journey and hard work are all paying off right now. It’s all come flooding in. I’m looking forward to June 1 when I can start heading to colleges on visits.”
Those first three offers, including the two from Pac-12 Conference schools Colorado and Oregon, will be the first of many to come. Later this summer, Bates has visits planned to other Power Five conference teams such as Miami, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Wednesday’s offer from Colorado, which was the first of the three he received, was a little extra special. His father was an offensive tackle for the Buffaloes before he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
“CU is really special for my whole family and is in our hearts all the way up to my grandparents,” Bates said. “With my family connection and my dad playing there, it was pretty emotional and a dream come true. To have a chance to play at Folsom Field, there’s nothing better than that.”
Justin Bates was an All-Big 12 conference selection in 2002. In 2001, he was part of the team that beat third-ranked Texas 39-37 to win the Big 12 Championship Game before a Fiesta Bowl loss to No. 2 Oregon.
A 6-4, 295-pound tackle coming out of college, Justin Bates was out of the NFL after being cut by Cowboys coach Bill Parcells on the final day of roster cuts his rookie year.
It was Justin Bates who first got his son into playing the center position, as he felt his own career may have lasted longer had he played center instead of tackle because of his size. With that in mind, he had his son at center as he coached his youth team, though he said his son has a longer wingspan than he did.
“He laughs and calls me ’short arms’ all the time,” Justin Bates said of his son. “He saw a really bad scouting review of me in the NFL that said I had slow feet and short arms. He has my wife’s side of the family with size in arm length, and he knows he’s been blessed with good genes to play.
“I don’t know that he fell in love with (playing center) as much as me saying, ’Josh, you’re playing center.’ Over time, when he learned the position and realized what it took to play the position well, it opened his eyes as to how important and how fun it is to play offensive line and specifically center.”
Bates was a Second Team All-State selection by the Colorado High School Activities Association coaches last season when he had 68 pancake blocks in eight games. Bates helped pave the way for Durango to run for 2,010 yards and protected senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton, a walk-on QB for the Colorado Buffaloes, as he passed for 1,010 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games played. Bates could be the third Demon from the 2020 championship team to sign at Colorado in the future, as wide receiver and safety Ben Finneseth also will walk on with the Buffaloes this summer.
“Even though we had some great senior leaders, Josh’s voice was heard last year and people respected him. The way he played set the tempo for us last year,” said DHS head coach David Vogt, who said Bates nearly broke him in half with a hug when he relayed the news of the offer from Oregon on Friday. “What he’s getting is a tribute to how hard he’s been working. He puts in so much extra time to really perfect his craft, and the coaches have done an amazing job teaching him and moving him along. It’s a great feeling to have big-time programs looking at one of your kids.”
In March, Bates attended the US National Team Selection Combine put on by USA Football in Texas. After his performance, he was rated the No. 1 center in Colorado and given a three-star recruiting ranking on the five-star scale. That matched the high mark achieved by Durango left tackle Carver Willis, a 2020 DHS graduate who plays for Kansas State.
The highest rating a player in the Four Corners has achieved since 2010 is four stars, earned by Aztec High School’s Matthew Hegarty. He went on to play at Notre Dame and Oregon after he graduated from Aztec High School in 2011.
At showcases in Denver and Las Vegas, Bates was named the 2023 class offensive line MVP, and he was the overall offensive line MVP for the entire state of Colorado.
“After seeing who else offers me and what kind of film I can put out after my junior year, I think I can get another star added to it. That’s a goal of mine,” Bates said. “Coming from Durango, the recruiting process is more difficult. College coaches look at the big football states like Texas, California and Florida first and don’t look as much at the ballers in Colorado or especially in the small towns. It’s hard to get that recognition, but I’ve worked with some great people who have helped, and when your dad played at CU, that’s definitely a source I have.”
Bates regularly works at Six Zero Strength + Fitness led by owner and coach Matt McChesney, another Colorado alum who spent six seasons in the NFL after signing with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2005. He had stints playing offensive and defensive line with the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
Justin Bates credited his son’s work with McChesney for turning him from a decent varsity player as a freshman to a big nasty who excelled in the physical and mental aspects of the game as a sophomore.
“It’s all Josh’s work ethic,” Justin said. “I can’t tell you how many workouts he’s been through with me when COVID shut everything down and we had to build a weight room in our garage or the once a month we drive up to McChesney at Six Zero Strength. It’s been all Josh. He wants to do it, and he’s also taking that same work ethic to his school and grades to make sure he finishes GPA-wise where he needs to be. It’s amazing to watch a kid who is 15 take command like that.”
Coaches at DHS are eager for Bates to bring back his experience from visiting the nation’s top college programs this summer when he steps back onto the field for the Demons this fall.
“He’s one of the most natural leaders for a kid his age I’ve ever been around,” DHS offensive coordinator Ryan Woolverton said. “He was a huge part of the leadership of our team this year. His personality is just bigger than life, and you are naturally drawn to the kid, which makes him such a positive leader to his teammates.
“He has owned being a lineman and loves it. I knew once Josh got on a few radars it was only a matter of time before he got his first offer. You just can’t ignore a frame like he has with his athletic ability. The offers he’s getting are impressive and quite a feat for a sophomore.”
While football is his focus, Bates has always been a multi-sport athlete. He played four sports at Miller Middle School and is in the middle of a strong throwing season for the DHS track and field team throwing the shot put and discus. He also led off a winning 4x100-meter relay team made up of all throwers at the Montezuma-Cortez meet earlier in the week.
“I was moving like a freight train in that one, really moving,” Bates said of the relay. “Track has been a good way to get my mind off all the stuff with football. It’s a nice distraction, and I love competing in any kind of sport I can.”
While Justin Bates said he selfishly hopes his son picks Colorado to continue the family legacy, he knows finding the right fit will be most important to his son’s own personal success. Taking the necessary time to find that fit before announcing a verbal commitment will be key.
For now, the Bates family is only thinking of a bit of advice given by Miller Middle School head coach Mike Jaramillo, and that is to enjoy the process., something Justin Bates said he didn’t so as much of during his own playing days.
“I’m just going to soak it in a lot. There’s still a lot of time to make my decision on where I want to go, and it’s going to be a pretty cool next couple of years,” Bates said. “It’s been a pretty special last 24 hours. When you get those first couple of calls, it’s pretty shocking and your whole body goes into shock. One thing I try to emphasize is to keep grounded, follow what I’ve been raised by and stay humble by appreciating what God’s given me.
“I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive of what I’m doing. This is a really special environment I have around me, and I think everyone understands the trajectory I hope to go on. I am excited to go through this with my family, my Durango High football program and the rest of our town.”