The knee injury that knocked Jessie Bates III out of two games late in Wake Forest’s season meant he wasn’t going to leave for the NFL Draft.
At least, that’s what the redshirt sophomore thought in early November.
“Actually when I got hurt, I had made up my mind that there was no way that I was going to come out,” Bates said Friday in a phone interview. “Just because I didn’t think I was going to be confident in my knee, I didn’t think that my knee would be ready.”
But after missing two games, Bates’ knee was ready. The safety played in nickel packages in the Deacons’ win against North Carolina State, and then was back to full strength for the regular-season finale against Duke.
By the Belk Bowl at the end of December, Bates was good enough to return a punt return 59 yards for a touchdown and make seven tackles.
Precisely one week and 10 minutes after kickoff in Charlotte, Bates announced his decision after making a calculated, well-researched decision to leave Wake Forest for the NFL Draft.
“Basically I thought about this a lot, and just keeping in mind my teammates, I didn’t want to let them down at all. But I mean, I did a lot of research,” Bates said. “I just didn’t want to base this decision off of emotions, I just wanted to look at facts and more of a logic kind of thing, and then make my decision from that point of view.
“Of course it was very tough to make that decision, but … I had to make it, and I feel very confident about it now.”
Bates flies Sunday to Tampa, Fla., where he’ll train at Performance Compound. It’s a complex operated by Yo Murphy, a former All-American at Idaho who had a seven-year NFL career.
It’s there that Bates will work in preparation for an invitation to the NFL combine, which is March 2-5. Defensive backs are slated for evaluations on the last day. Bates hasn’t received an invite to the combine — he figures that’s coming — and he knows of a specific skill he’ll need to display.
“I have contacted a lot of scouts as I was going through the decision process, they’ve given me a mid-second to third-round draft pick, depending on how I run, which is a key part of that,” Bates said.
He said he’s projected to run a mid-4.5 40-yard dash time, but is confident he’ll be faster.
It’s self-belief based on Bates running a 4.5 last summer at Wake Forest, and in the training regimen he’ll go through for the next several weeks.
“I’m pretty sure I ran a 4.5 flat or 4.49 last summer at Wake, so I … and that’s with limited training,” Bates said. “I feel very confident in my training facility … and I also did a pre-test as well this week and I feel very good about how I’m going to do.”
There’s another source of confidence as Bates heads into this process.
An important part of Bates decision, as stated in his 351-word explanation of his decision on Twitter, was this: “To my teammates, thank you for the bonds and memories that we have created. They will never be lost,” Bates wrote.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder learned — actually, it was confirmed — that his teammates support his decision.
“Very emotional as well, just because not only are those guys my teammates, those are my best friends, guys that I’ll keep in touch with for the rest of my life, and those are the guys I actually talked to before making the decision,” Bates said. “Just getting their feedbacks and keeping them in mind because I didn’t want to let them down or keep them out of the loop.
“No matter what, that’s going to happen and our friendship will never go away just because I decided to take a different route. It’s just a good feeling to know that my best friends are my best friends.”
Bates knows that the knee injury has healed, too. He said that he underwent an evaluation this week and the doctor couldn’t tell which of his knees had been the injured one.
So Bates leaves Wake Forest with two healthy knees, having played two seasons and helped the Deacons to a couple of bowl victories. It’s probably fitting that he scored a touchdown against Texas A&M, since he was forced out of bounds twice inside opponents’ 4-yard lines this season.
“I kinda misjudged it, yeah I did. I didn’t want to get blown up like I did the game before against Duke.
I took a wild guess and I took it, I was very confident in our scheme that week, so I caught the ball and I just remember, ‘Oh my gosh, the blocking for me,’” Bates said. “And I see Chuck Wade at the end and there’s two guys left, I’m like, ‘Oh, I might score, I might score this season, might be my first time.’
“And it happened, so pretty cool. I had a great moment.”