The summer months can drag for college football players, which is why it’s always nice for newcomers to have familiar faces with whom to pass the time.
It won’t be any different for juco teammates Bazie Bates, a safety, and Brandon Stewart, a cornerback, once games arrive and they’re making the difficult transition to Big 12 football.
“We’ve been playing together since 2012,” Bates said. “He knows how I play. I know how he plays. Just to look over there and see that I have one of my best friends from juco there, knowing he’s going to get his job done, makes it easier. That confidence level goes up on the field.”
Bates and Stewart both red-shirted as freshmen at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas and then played there for two seasons. Both players arrived at mid-semester and participated in spring football.
“The strength and conditioning program is amazing here,” Bates said. “In juco, you don’t really lift like this and you don’t eat like this. And we do speed work every day. Everyone on this team has gotten way faster.”
Bates’ roster weight is 186 pounds, his height 6-foot-1, but in the spring he said he expected to reach 200 pounds by the beginning of the season. Stewart is listed at 6-0, 171 on the roster. They both played their high school football at Dallas Metroplex powerhouses, Bates at Cedar Hill High, Stewart at Allen High.
Stewart completed spring football on a mission to add weight because unless your name is Deion Sanders, tackling is part of the job description of a cornerback.
“He can hit,” Bates cautioned. “Don’t sleep on him. Don’t sleep on him. If a receiver runs an out route, he will hit him, no doubt about it.”
Stewart originally committed to California, but said he changed his mind because head coach David Beaty, “earned my trust.” For an athlete from the West Coast, the Pac-12 is the conference that carries the most prestige. Not so for a Texan.
“For me to get a chance to play in the Big 12,” Stewart said, “it’s exciting for me and my family.”
Stewart said he expects big things right away from Bates.
“He has great athleticism and love for the game,” Stewart said. “He focuses. And he can lay the wood, man.”
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will rely heavily on debuting junior college players because so little is back from a year ago. Three players from his defense (Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald) went in the NFL draft. Defensive end Ben Goodman, who started all 12 games last season, and nickel back Tevin Shaw (eight starts) are the only defensive players on the roster who started at least half of KU’s games in 2014. Safety Fish Smithson played in all 12 games and logged enough time to rank fifth on the team in tackles.
Arriving at mid-semester has enabled Bates and Stewart — as well as juco teammate/offensive lineman DeAndre Banks — time to make the adjustment to college life. It was Bates who encouraged KU coaches to recruit Banks.
“We’ve been through a lot, grinding every day,” Bates said. “In junior college, everything is a grind. Just blessed to be here and blessed that coach Beaty gave us a chance to show what we have and to make contributions to the team.”
Said Stewart: “Huge difference from the juco life to the university life. The resources, from the food to the equipment, the help you get academically, just a huge difference.”
The level of competition Bates and Stewart will face vs. pass-happy teams will amount to a huge difference as well. The head start they both were afforded by arriving at the semester can only help them negotiate their way through it.