Scour the southeast and you will not find many teams with as much talent as the group assembled at Olive Branch (Miss.) High school. Coach Scott Samsel has big bodied linemen, hard-hitting defenders, speed, skill and size. Lost in the shuffle of all of that talent is perhaps one of the most under-rated prospects in the entire region, Darren Bates.
For Olive Branch, Bates does it all. He plays running back, wide receiver, safety and cornerback and he does it all at a high skill level and a high intensity level. On the next level, Bates projects best as a safety and recently he showed off his abilities at that position during a close loss to national power Batesville (Miss.) South Panola. In that game, while making numerous plays on offense, Bates was all over the field on defense, tallying 17 tackles and setting the tone of the Olive Branch defense with big hits and relentless pursuit.
"I think I've gotten better on offense and defense and I think I've gotten stronger too," said Bates, a transfer from Memphis (Tenn.) Christian Brothers. "Not many people thought last year that I can play with South Panola and those teams."
In his South Panola performance, Bates showed the ability to cover as well as the ability to make the tough tackle. On one goal-line stand, Bates squared up to South Panola big back Nicholas Parker in the hole and drove him back in an impressive display. His good instincts are also evident on the field and something that he considers a strength.
"On defense, I think I can diagnose plays very well," he said. "I get to the ball and just make tackles. I don't miss too many tackles. On offense I can catch the ball. If I play running back I can get to the hole and I can block."
Though he doesn't have any offers to date, Bates has been receiving serious interest from a number of major programs.
"I hear from Louisiana Tech, Tennessee, Alabama, Southern Miss," he said. "I talked to Southern miss and Louisiana Tech a couple days ago. I talked to Coach Williams from North Carolina a couple weeks ago. He calls me every other week. I like them all. My options are still open. I don't narrow down any of them."
Bates has taken unofficial visits to Alabama and Ole Miss and hopes to take in Louisiana Tech in the near future. He also hopes to visit Ole Miss and Alabama again as well as Southern Miss.
Though most schools see Bates as a safety, his seven touchdowns this season prove that he is a threat on offense too and some schools like that versatility. Louisiana Tech, in particular, likes Bates as an athlete or in the slot. As far as Bates is concerned, getting on the field is all that matters.
"I don't care what position I play as long as I'm on the field," he said.