Detroit Free Press

Jake Bates didn’t kick a FG in college. Now he’s a Michigan Panthers hero

- Jared Ramsey

Seven years is a long time to wait between reps and expect success, especially long-distance field goals with a full set of pads.

But not for Jake Bates.

The Michigan Panthers kicker, who had not made a field goal in an organized football game since his high school days in Tomball, Texas, showed no nerves on his first field goal attempt despite the magnitude of the situation and distance in front of him.

Bates trotted to midfield Saturday at Ford Field with eight seconds left in the Michigan Panthers’ United Football League opener against the St. Louis Battlehawk­s. The Panthers trailed 16-15 after allowing a touchdown and go-ahead one-point conversion with 49 seconds left.

The offense, led by quarterbac­k E.J. Perry, moved the ball to their own 46-yard line with 8 seconds remaining before sending out the kicking team for a 64-yard attempt.

Bates went through his usual routine and drilled the longest field goal in the UFL’s short history — but St. Louis had called a timeout. Bates paid no attention and repeated the kick on the second try, easily making it from 64 again, to give the Panthers the 18-16 win in the home opener in Detroit.

“Before they kicked off, I went up to E.J. and I don’t know if he realized it because he was

pretty locked in, and told him to get it to the 45 and I’ll get it there,” Bates said. “The first one, I hit a good ball, but that’s why you practice so hard so every kick can be the same. That comes from years and years of repetition and hitting the same ball. That’s what I try to do to every ball, it needs to be the same — never change anything.”

The attempted icing had no bearing on Bates, who wasn’t even thinking about that possibilit­y as he lined up to kick.

“I honestly didn’t even think about them having a timeout, that didn’t even register in my head until I heard the whistle blow,” Bates said. “I was already in the flow of it.”

He effortless­ly drained the kick, tying the second-longest field goal across profession­al football, just behind Justin Tucker’s 66-yard game-winner against the Detroit Lions in 2021. Both kicks sailed through the same uprights in Ford Field’s East end zone.

Bates, 25, ended up on the Panthers after a winding path that took him to three colleges and two brief pitstops with NFL teams. He started his collegiate career as a soccer player at Central Arkansas, before transferri­ng to Texas State in 2020 to join the football team as a kickoff specialist. He played two seasons at Texas State, never attempting a field goal in a game, before transferri­ng for one final season at Arkansas in 2022, where he was the kickoff specialist again and was voted first-team AllSEC by the league’s coaches.

Bates signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then Houston Texans, appearing in one preseason game, but did not make the NFL roster.

“It doesn’t change too much,” Bates said when asked about becoming a UFL star in an instant. “I’m thankful that this organizati­on gave me a chance and took a shot in the dark on someone with my playing history — a lot of teams didn’t want to. So I think a lot of this season is just I want to show them that I’m thankful for them. They gave me this opportunit­y to chase a dream.”

He signed with the Panthers in January and made the final 50-man roster as the kickoff specialist and kicker. He said making the team provided a sense of certainty in his life.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be working my job selling bricks or if I was going to be able to play football,” Bates said. “So, yeah it feels good. I feel like I got that sense of relief once we got to training camp. It was like, ‘okay this is happening, I’m with the team,’ and getting the first game out of the way and getting a W feels good.”

The coaching staff had some ideas about his leg strength, but didn’t find out about the sheer distance and accuracy until last week. Head coach Mike Nolan said an off-hand rep during practice opened his mind to being willing to kick from past 60 yards and to have full faith in Bates.

“The other day in practice, it was this past week, he lined up and kicked just like you saw today,” Nolan said. “It looked exactly like that, it could have gone for 70 I’d guess. He kicked just like that in practice and it got my attention because at that point we were just keeping things in the 40s and 50s and all that good stuff. He just lined up with the holder, there wasn’t a line at the time, just showing off maybe I guess, but I sat there and watched him and he kicked it 65 yards in practice and he did it a couple of times. Just like you saw, it went right through the middle.”

Nolan paused for a second in his answer then briefly chuckled to himself before he continued.

“Sheesh. I mean I hope that continues. It would be great for us.”

 ?? PROVIDED BY MICHIGAN PANTHERS ?? Panthers kicker Jake Bates connects on a 64-yard field goal to give the Panthers a stunning 18-16 win over the Battlehawk­s on Saturday.
PROVIDED BY MICHIGAN PANTHERS Panthers kicker Jake Bates connects on a 64-yard field goal to give the Panthers a stunning 18-16 win over the Battlehawk­s on Saturday.

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