football Edit

Last Man Standing

One by one, he watched the entire recruiting class disappear. Not like a gradual process, either. In the span of eight days, Oklahoma’s 2023 recruiting class essentially evaporated in late November and early December.

All the skill guys that had helped the Sooners have far and away the No. 1-ranked class for 2023 were about to go on their own journeys to find new homes.

Then there was Joshua Bates. The Durango (Colo.) High center was one of only two commitments to stick with the Sooners after the sudden departure of former head coach Lincoln Riley.

Two months later, the other remaining member in wide receiver DeAndre Moore, decommitted. At one time Bates was part of a class that featured quarterback Malachi Nelson (USC), wide receivers Makai Lemon (USC), Brandon Inniss (Ohio State) and Moore (Louisville), running back Treyaun Webb (Florida) and tight end Luke Hasz (Arkansas).

Now? He’s the last one standing.

It might be Bates who ends up getting the last laugh, though. Questions about whether first-year head coach Brent Venables can recruit at OU have been answered with an emphatic yes during the last couple of months.

OU went from toiling in the 40s of team rankings to being a solidified top-10 group, and everybody knows the Sooners aren’t done yet in August.

You could forgive Bates if he wanted to take a victory lap. He’s not literally going to do that, but his faith has been rewarded. And as OU continues to rack up elite recruits on both sides of the ball, hey, it all started with Bates.

“I'm proud of that,” said Bates to “It seemed hard at the time. Looking at all your buddies leaving the ship, definitely difficult."

“But I picked OU for their culture, for their pride and for their tradition. More than for just one person. That's why I love Oklahoma. I'm gonna be a Sooner for life."

“Watching all these commits come in now asking me, 'why did you stay?' I'm able to recruit that way. It's a great way to show them why OU is special. It's more than just Coach Riley or Coach Bedenbaugh or Coach Venables. Oklahoma is the best.”

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Bates picking the Sooners. It has been one wild ride in the last 365 days and that connection goes back to last summer.

Bates had a plan heading into the 2021 camp season. He was picking certain schools to camp, and if he was good enough, he was going to earn the offer.

OU was in the hunt with Oregon, Michigan State and Miami. And obviously, there was Colorado where he’s from and where his father, Justin Bates, played for the Buffaloes.

Bates arrived at OU’s camp, still with the mission to put on a show. As it ended, he made sure to shake the hand of offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.

Then Bates’ life changed.

“I just wanted to tell him thank you,” Bates said. “He stopped me from leaving and said you might want to stick around after.”

Bates went up to Riley’s office and was offered. He remembers being told by Bedenbaugh that Bates was the No. 1 center for OU for the 2023 class and how Bates reminded them of previous centers like Creed Humphrey. It struck a chord with him.

Bates returned to OU for the ChampU BBQ, and he knew.

“I’m not going anywhere else,” Bates said. “I’m ready.”

Everything was going along just fine until that fateful Sunday afternoon. Less than 24 hours from OU’s regular season coming to an end in a Bedlam loss at Oklahoma State, Riley shocked the college football world by heading to USC.

This is where it helped Bates to have his father and his family by his side. He chose to not have some impulsive decision, but other schools were obviously going to start calling.

“That was a pretty crazy time, obviously,” Bates said. “Right as I saw the news, I have a bunch of friends, teammates and coaches from other schools texting me. It just erupted at that point.

“But I had a great support system who were smart about the process. They’re going to bring in someone good, and they’re going to bring in the best offensive line coach.”

Turns out that didn’t change. All the moves, but Bedenbaugh wasn’t going anywhere. Bates and Bedenbaugh were communicating often through the process. Bates felt Bedenbaugh absolutely wanted to stay in Norman.

The call came a week or so later from Bedenbaugh. He was staying, officially. And so, too, was Bates.

“I want to play for him,” Bates said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Time to build that class. That was the mindset. It was one of the biggest reasons Bates decided to commit so early in the process. By doing so, now the goal was to get the biggest and baddest and nastiest offensive line group for Bedenbaugh.

Bates said it was something he would discuss with Bedenbaugh often, about getting the right guys to dominate in the trenches.

That meant someone like Cayden Green. It was a process to get Green to commit last month, but Bates was there from the beginning in doing all he could to make it happen.

“It actually feels pretty easy to me to recruit,” Bates said. “I’m a natural leader. I say what needs to be said.”

OU has four offensive linemen commits now. The Sooners aren’t in any trouble at all, meaning Bates can focus on his senior season.

It’s going to fly by. He’s getting ready, and in five months, he’s going to be a Sooner as Bates said he plans to be a mid-year enrollee.

Bates said he’s enjoyed getting to know Venables and is excited to get a chance to play for him. Bates is already trying to learn all there is to offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, breaking down Ole Miss film. Bates knows he’s a fit for Lebby’s offense with the nastiness and the physicality.

It was a natural assumption Bates would end up at Colorado and follow in his father’s footsteps. But he was never pressured to go in that direction, with Bates saying his father is a Sooner fan now and respected the decision the whole way.

But there was something from his father that Bates gladly has followed in the footsteps – integrity. It helped Bates stick by OU when it looked like some dark days were coming and why he’s been able to enjoy this recruiting rise of the last couple of months.

“The biggest thing is, with these commits, commit is a word that is really thrown around at this point,” Bates said. “If you’re going to commit and say I’m all-in for this school, then stick to your word.

“That’s something I was raised on. My father always told me if you’re going to say something and put your word to something, you better be able to stand by it.”

Bates has for 365 days. In his actions, in his words, he’s been a commitment in every sense of the definition for Venables and Bedenbaugh. That doesn’t sound like it’s ever going to change.