May 1, 2021

20 Years Later, Bates Reflects On Draft Memories

If you need a simple reminder as to just how much we rely on today’s technology, look no further than Kelly Bates and how he had to scramble to find out where his pro football life would begin. Approaching the 20-year anniversary of his selection in round four of the CFL Draft, Bates can’t help but chuckle at the lengths he had to go to in order to find out when and if his name would be called at the University of Saskatchewan campus. It made for some pretty solid memories.

“I was preparing to write a final exam,” recalls Bates of those vivid draft memories.

“Back then, we just had our home phones. None of this technology we do now. I had to run back and forth, to and from, the computer lab, log on to a desktop and get my updates there. All of a sudden, a buddy of mine comes flying in to tell me I got drafted. It was surreal. I have no idea if anyone from the Lions called to inform me.”

RELATED: 2021 BC Lions Draft Central

It was no doubt a thrilling moment in his life. But he quickly had to re-focus on his exam. After all, no fourth-round selection is guaranteed to make it out of his maiden voyage at training camp, let alone enjoy a ten-year career that includes a Grey Cup win and CFL All-Star selection.

“The professor knew I had just been drafted, ” says Bates.

“I gave a few subpar answers at the start of the test that he wound up giving me marks for humour and creativity. So I guess, it was worth it in the end (laughs). That night, we celebrated by barbecuing some steaks. It was that evening where I got a call, ironically enough, from Neil McEvoy. That was the start of our long journey together.”

Evaluation Memories Differ From Present Day

Nowadays, the process leading up to the draft can be just as exciting as the draft day itself. Bates can’t lay claim to any special scouting or combine memories leading up to his selection by the Lions in round four (32nd overall).

“I wasn’t even invited to the combine,” remembers the 1998 Vanier Cup Champion.

“Seeing what these kids go through now with the interview process and having to perform the combine drills in front of coaches and scouts, you really have to tip your hat. Maybe it’s good I didn’t because I definitely wouldn’t have looked the part back then. I think of the tweet Neil sent out about Jason Clermont being the first interview prospect to show up in a suit, that’s when it really started to change. He was drafted the year after me.”

20 years after he became a BC Lion, Kelly Bates shares his memories of draft night and how he had to rely on modern technology to learn his draft fate.

One thing Bates is thankful for was the chance to play at such a powerhouse program at Saskatchewan. Along with helping the Huskies claim a national title, Bates is proud of the fact he was able to carry on such a tradition of excellence that had been established many years earlier.

“It was a credit to our head coach Brian Towers who not only wanted to develop us as players but to have us contribute to society, ” says Bates.

“The environment that had been established helped breed success for us. Guys like Jason Crumb, who became my Lions teammate, and Gene Makowsky are two great examples of guys that played there before me who had set that standard.”

And now in his role as Lions offensive line coach, Bates uses those methods to help develop young players of his own. Now he enjoys being a part of the draft process from an evaluator’s perspective.

Bates Excited By 2021 Offensive Line Possibilities

It isn’t a CFL Draft without a few intriguing offensive linemen to consider adding to the roster. The Lions could very likely come away with at least one from Tuesday night’s festivities. As someone who once ran the Canadian scouting in a previous role with the Lions, Bates is always excited to help scout the up and comers eligible to be chosen. This year is no exception.

“I’d say the group is a very solid one but I’d also say that about every position in this draft,” says Bates.

“Logan Bandy from the Calgary Dinos will be a good one. Alaric Jackson from Iowa and Pier-Olivier Lestage out of Montreal also impress me. There is also a guy from my alma mater, Connor Berglof, who is really good. It’s really impressive and it speaks to the good job these young athletes do preparing themselves to take that next step in their career.”

It should be an exciting chapter in the return to play story for 2021. Bates will always cherish the memories of his own draft experience two decades ago. No need for any old school computer labs this time around.

Matt Baker: