LB Houston Bates Earning Playing Time

Houston Bates (Holly Smith)

Many high school football players must transition to positions more suited for them in college. For some, it can take several years to acclimate. But Houston Bates is making a rapid adjustment to linebacker and is presently running second team in spring ball for the Illini.

Houston Bates was a defensive end in high school. Upon arriving at Illinois, it was obvious his body build and skills were more suited to linebacker. It took awhile for him to make the adjustment from end.

"That's where I was most comfortable. I liked getting after the quarterback in high school. But linebacker is definitely more of a fit. They're known as the head-bangers on the team.

"I'm definitely happy where I'm at. I wouldn't change it. I'd definitely have to beef up a little bit at d-end. I don't feel like doing that."

Bates benefitted from a redshirt season. The college game is much more complex than high school.

"In high school, the coach told me to sack the quarterback. So I did that, and I was good at it. But coming to college, you can't just do that. Everybody's good. You can get away with things in high school you can't get away with here."

The Louisiana product originally committed to LSU but changed his mind when they requested he sit out a semester as a greyshirt.

"It was my call. Illinois contacted me right after that. I figured it was God telling me to come here."

Bates needed to adjust to the Illinois winter, but otherwise he has fit in well. He is excited for the upcoming season.

"It feels great. I love getting into the swing of things, playing on Saturday in front of a huge crowd. That was my dream since I was a little boy. Now that it's finally here, I'm taking full advantage of it. Get after it."

Bates was running second team behind Jonathan Brown at WILL or weakside linebacker until he overtook him Saturday. The position's requirements fit him well.

"I've always been kind of a versatile guy. I do special teams, I can cover and blitz and do whatever the coach asks me to do. That's why I think WILL is the best fit for me."

Bates lists his strengths as a player.

"I'd say speed first. And then I put some more size on. I can read, reading is getting easier. And I can cover too.

"I have a motor, that definitely goes a long way. That's how I got rated in high school. You just don't stop."

The 6'-2", 230 pounder realizes the value of study in preparing for his role.

"You've got to get in the film room. That's the key to reading. A lot of guys have a natural nose for the ball, but I don't think I have that. That's why I need to get in the film room."

The pre-med major certainly has the smarts for it. He also has the aggressiveness to be good in special teams. He looks forward to continuing his role from high school when he was considered a special team terror.

"In special teams, you've got to be aggressive, you've got to have a motor. Athletic guys are on special teams; we play every play."

Not even winter conditioning threw Bates for a loop his first year on campus. The rigorous conditioning program was easier for him than most.

"I worked out with Curt Hester, he's head strength coach for D-1 Sports Training. He definitely pushed me harder. This was a breeze, but I won't tell them that."

Despite growing up in SEC country, Bates embraces his role as a linebacker in a physical conference.

"This is the Big 10, and we're known for linebackers. Let's see if I can make that name."

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