COLORADO SPRINGS — It was over the summer when Arizona State offensive line coach Dave Christensen called Alijah Bates and delivered news that every high school football player hopes to hear.
The Sun Devils had a spot for the senior offensive lineman. The moment seemed surreal. Even on Wednesday when Bates signed his National Letter of Intent, officially joining the ASU program, it still seemed too good to be true.
"It's crazy," was all he could say about it.
Bates is a reserved kid. He's polite and almost comes off as shy. At least when he's not on the football field. Once he suits up, he's a force to reckoned with. As Bates posed for pictures with family and friends on Wednesday, Spartans coach Jeff Krumlauf stood at the back of the auditorium at Doherty and reflected on what he had meant to the team and to the school.
“He’s the ultimate protector," Krumlauf said. "Especially on the offensive side, that’s what he does. He protects what is valuable to him. He’s the same way in his own life with his friends and his family. It’s special to see what this kid has done from the time he was in eighth grade to where he is now and where he is going.”
He's going the same place his parents went. His dad is Solomon Bates, a former linebacker for the Sun Devils who was named a third-team All-American in 2002.
That's part of the reason that Alijah's recruitment to Tempe, and especially the offer, was overwhelming.
Planning way ahead, Bates pulled down the Arizona State jersey from the wall of his bedroom. It was torn in places and just below the right shoulder a Pacific Life Holiday Bowl patch had been sewn on.
The jersey belonged to Solomon. After Alijah signed his letter, he took off the Arizona State pullover he was wearing and stood on the stage in his father's jersey. The crowd ate up the moment and Alijah had a smile on his face.
This wasn't just a big moment for him and his family, it was a big moment for Doherty. It was 13 years ago that Lamarr Houston had signed to the University of Texas. That was the last time a Spartan had signed with a team from one of the Power 5 football conferences.
Houston would eventually achieve the dream of breaking into the NFL. The roadmap was something that appealed to Bates he prepared to venture into the world of college football.
“I would like to get to where he was and make it to the NFL,” Bates said.
Aside from the high school team, the common link between Bates and Houston is the kind of football they play. It was tough for their stats to be pulled up on MaxPreps. They weren't the ones throwing or catching touchdowns. Houston was the guy going after the guy throwing touchdowns. Bates is the guy who protects him.
Houston and Bates are both hitters and bruisers on the football field and, lately, that seems to be the kind of next-level players the Spartans produce.
“These are the type of kids that go here and play here," Bates said. "They’re ready to fight and play hard.”
They have to set themselves apart based on what coaches and scouts see from them on the field. It takes more than a stat sheet.
When Krumlauf looks at Bates, he sees several things that set him apart from other players in city and state.
“He’s six-foot-eight," Krumlauf said. "So he’s tall and that does separate him. It’s just the way he goes about everything in his life on and off the field. He’s very easy going, he’s always having a good time, he does things the right way, he’s never been a problem. He’s great in the classroom and it’s awesome to see when you have all that in front of you and you have all these other distractions, you can stay focused.”
Bates' focus helped him land at Arizona State. He's adding to a legacy on multiple fronts. He'll step on the same campus as his dad and he is the latest Doherty Spartan to head to a big-time football program.
Click here to check out the recruiting database for the Class of 2019.