College football coaches need a pretty good push to start a freshman, but Towson State's Phil Albert had no reservations about penciling in Aaron Bates as the Tigers' free safety this fall.
"We're putting a lot of stress on him [Bates], and we know he's going to make mistakes," Albert said. "But over the long haul, he can only make us a better team. He's an outstanding athlete. We're not starting him because we have to. We're starting Aaron because we want to."
Bates was a first-team All-Metro defensive back at Wilde Lake High in 1988, but he admits he's surprised to be a starter in Division I-AA less than two years later. Bates, who was redshirted last fall, isn't the only inexperienced player at Towson State (0-2). The Tigers will start three other freshmen and six sophomores when they travel to Dover to play Delaware State (1-1) tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.
"I went through spring practice first on the depth chart, but it didn't hit me that I would be a starter until right before the first game," Bates said. "That's when I got nervous. A few of the teams you play in high school throw the ball, but this is another world. At this level offenses are a lot more technical. Coverages can get confusing."
The Towson State defense was peppered in its first two games, allowing Rhode Island 40 points and Lehigh 35, and Bates is the first to point out that his own mental errors led to an opposition touchdown in each game. Albert and staff, however, don't feel that there is any gamble involved in developing Bates' potential.
Bates, who also played basketball, baseball and ran track at Wilde Lake, comes from pretty good stock.
His father, Alfred, played at Morgan State in the early 1960s, when the Golden Bears had some of the nation's best small college teams. Rhonda, an older sister, was an All-Metro basketball player at Wilde Lake, played at Temple, and plans to play professionally in Australia. Older brother Ricky made the University of Arizona football team as a walk-on in 1984 and '85, and his experiences helped Aaron select Towson State.
"I was looking at North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech and Stanford, but all of those places wanted me to walk on without a scholarship," Bates said. "At the Division I-A level, I've heard that walk-ons get a bum deal. Ricky's experience is the reason I wanted to make sure I had a scholarship."
Bates could handle the academics anywhere. He was Wilde Lake's football scholar-athlete, and his cumulative grade-point average at Towson last year was 3.1. He's undecided on a major, but is looking into biology. With brother Ricky attending medical school at USC and sister Rhonda off to Australia, it's a family used to success stories.
"That's the way we were brought up," Aaron said.