Bates goes full circle at Towson State Safety back in form after knee injury

October 23, 1992|By Dave Glassman | Dave Glassman,Contributing Writer

For Aaron Bates, the moment every athlete dreads came not at the end of one of his crushing tackles or drive-stopping pass interceptions. It was much more mundane than that.

"One of my teammates came over the top of a pile," said Bates, a free safety at Towson State. "I was just standing there and his helmet came into my left knee at an angle. I limped off the field by myself. I sat down, but when I tried to stand up I knew, because my leg was wiggling inside my knee."

Bates knew then, late in the Tigers' 1990 loss to James Madison, that he had a serious knee injury. He had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and partially torn medial collateral ligament and medial cartilage.

"The triad," Towson State trainer Terry O'Brien called it.

After starting the first five games of his college career and leading the team in tackles as a redshirt freshman out of Wilde Lake in Columbia, Bates' season was over.

Six weeks later he underwent reconstructive surgery on the knee and two weeks after that, he began lengthy rehabilitation under O'Brien's supervision.

"My leg atrophied so much," Bates said. "The muscles were so small, it went to nothing." Six days a week, four hours each day, he worked on it.

Now a 6-foot-1, 201-pound junior, Bates is back for the Tigers (2-4). He's second on the team with 44 tackles and tied for the interception lead with two going into tomorrow's 1:30 p.m. homecoming game at Minnegan Stadium against James Madison (3-4).

But it hasn't been easy.

"Aaron's knee didn't straighten as quickly as we'd have liked," O'Brien said. "There were some adhesions." During the summer of 1991 he had arthroscopic surgery to remove the adhesions, further delaying his recovery.

"I tried to play last year in the second or third game," Bates said. "I don't think I was ready then. I didn't have the instincts I had before." Then, in the fifth and sixth games of the season, he had 13 tackles and three interceptions.

"He started to show signs of full recovery three-quarters of the way through last year," said Towson State coach Gordy Combs, then the Tigers' defensive coordinator. "He had a terrific spring. We felt he was well on his way."

If Bates lost any speed or quickness during his layoff, he has compensated in other ways. "I think my game speed is so much faster than my flat-out 40 [yards]," he said.

"He's so much stronger in his legs and upper body," said Combs. "He's always been an intelligent player. Now he's matured. . . He's our defensive signal-caller."

Bates carries a 3.4 average with a major in biology and a minor in mathematics. He's looking to attend medical school. His brother Eric, once a walk-on player at Arizona, is in medical school at the University of Southern California. His older sister, Rhonda, played basketball at Temple and now plays professionally in Australia.

An All-Metro defensive back in 1988 and Wilde Lake's football scholar-athlete, Bates turned down full scholarship offers from Division I-AA powers Delaware and William & Mary because some Division I-A programs were recruiting him. But after he took trips to Duke and North Carolina, both schools signed players higher on their recruiting lists and didn't offer him a scholarship.

"I guess I'm still a little bitter about the whole recruiting situation," he said. "I'd have been left with nothing if Towson hadn't been there for me."

Bates has excelled academically despite the frustrations of his athletic career. "I couldn't play," he said. "The program was on the verge of being dropped. I couldn't walk right." Still, he loves the game. "It's the intensity and the competition. I like the physicalness of it. It seems like it's the only sport where you don't get in trouble for being violent."

That comes from the same man who also says of his career choices, "Right now, I think I'd like to deliver babies."

Whether delivering babies or forearm shivers, Bates will be a success, Combs said. "He's persistent in all walks of life," he said. "He's a self-starter, organized and self-motivated. He's the whole package."

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