Fort Wayne’s Jessie Bates III leaves Wake Forest to pursue NFL dream

Wake Forest's Jessie Bates III (3) and Cameron Glenn (2) celebrate in the closing seconds of the second half of the Belk Bowl NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. Wake Forest won 55-52. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Wake Forest's Jessie Bates III (3) returns a punt for a touchdown against Texas A&M during the first half of the Belk Bowl NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Jessie Bates III says his dream of playing in the NFL started at 6 years old, when he was always trying to play with the older kids in the neighborhood.

The possibility of that dream becoming reality set in as he went from a standout player at Snider High School to one of the top safeties in the country playing for Wake Forest University.

Today, he’s embracing it 100 percent.

Bates announced on Twitter today that he is leaving Wake Forest after his redshirt sophomore season and entering the 2018 NFL Draft.

It was a tough decision, and one that he spent hours researching while meeting with family and trusted advisors. He hopes to be invited to the NFL Combine, test well, demonstrate his football IQ and be a second- or third-round draft pick.

“I tried to look at it not so much emotionally, but with logic and doing my research and getting as much information as I could,” Bates said in a phone interview. “I liked what I was hearing and the opportunity presented itself.”

Bates will train with AWP Sports locally and also with ASPI (Applied Science & Performance Institute) in Tampa, Fla., as he pours everything into his pro shot.

“This is a great opportunity for me, and one a lot of people don’t have,” Bates said. “God has blessed me with this opportunity and I’m going to enjoy it before I head out to Florida for training. From there, I’m going to put my head down, stay off my phone and social media and chase after the dream.”

Bates redshirted his first fall at Wake Forest, and then made a huge impact in 2016 and 2017. As a redshirt freshman in 2016, he tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead with 70 solo tackles and also had five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He had 79 tackles (50 solo) this season with one interception, five pass breakups and six tackles for loss.

Bates missed two games and parts of two others due to a sprained MCL. But he performed well in what would be his last Wake Forest game, returning a punt 59 yards for a touchdown in a 55-52 win over Texas A&M on Dec. 29 in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

“That was a great feeling to send the seniors out on that note because those seniors had a lot to do with where the program is today,” Bates said. “I didn’t know it would be my last game, so it’s pretty cool that we came out with a win.”

Bates’ touchdown made it sweeter. “I kept stepping out at the three-yard line this year, so it was nice to get in,” he said.

Bates spent much of his time since the bowl game contemplating his decision to turn pro. In keeping with his thoughtful nature, he considered how the decision would impact others, too. In many ways, worrying how others would react was the hardest part, he said.

“Thinking of my teammates made it really tough because I didn’t want to let them down or stop what we have going with back-to-back bowl games,” he said. “It was kind of tough to communicate to them, ‘Hey, I might be leaving,’ because I didn’t want to feel selfish or anything. But I have to do what’s best for me.”

Bates said he hopes Wake Forest fans will understand his decision.

“They have been great for me my three years here, even when I wasn’t playing my freshman year,” he said. “I want to thank our fans for everything they’ve done in making me feel very welcome.”

Bates, who was listed as 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds this past season, would like to add weight during the next couple months, as well as work to fine-tune his speed and make a good impression when he works out for NFL scouts. He has been working with AWP Defensive Back Training Specialist Lawrence Barnett and Sports Performance Specialist Geoff King.

In his announcement today, Bates thanked his Wake Forest and Snider coaches for their help in developing him as a player.

Bates had special words of thanks for his mother, Theresa Ladd.

“She’s amazing,” Bates said. “Anyone who has met my mother knows that I’m a momma’s boy, and if you met her you would understand why. She’s so unselfish and her work ethic is amazing, how she provides for our family and my other siblings. I hope to give back to her what I can for all she has done.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)