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Springstead star Bates becomes a Highlander

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


SPRING HILL -- Stephen Bates doesn't know what a Highlander is.

Well, he is, technically, after signing a scholarship to play for Radford University in Virginia.

Bates was the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year after leading Springstead with 25 goals and eight assists as a senior, but wasn't sure if he would be offered the chance to play for an NCAA Division I school.

After the two-time defending Big South Conference champion approached him last month, his decision was made quickly.

"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," Bates said. "I definitely like that I get to go D-I."

Highlanders coach Spencer Smith said Bates' quickness and ability to possess the ball could quickly help him play his way into games.

"He fills a need for us in the center-mid," Smith said. "When I saw him play, he certainly looked like a candidate who would fit in there.

"He'll get some quality minutes his first year, but it's up to him, obviously, the way he plays," the coach said.

Springstead coach Sal Calabrese said Bates is prepared skills-wise and mentally to make the jump to Division I.

"He doesn't lack any confidence," Calabrese said. "He wants to go there and be ready to play.

"He's a very technically sound player. His technical ability and awareness are far superior to anyone else around.

"He's like (Gaither High standout and U.S. under-18 national team pool member) Bryce Wegerle. He could be that good," Calabrese said.

College soccer is another notch more physical than in high school or club, and Bates, at 5-foot-9 a mid-sized midfielder, must prove his durability. He missed several games this season with knee and toe ailments and the flu.

"I hope he's healthy enough to take the rigorous training and having the play physically step up," Calabrese said.

Bates, typically, doesn't seem concerned.

"It's pretty much like a mix of club and high school," Bates said. "A little bit more physical, but it won't bother me."

Bates' most productive game at Springstead came Feb. 15, 2000, when he scored five goals in a 5-2 win over Daytona Beach Seabreeze in a Class 2A, Region 2 semifinal. He finished his junior season with 27 goals.

Bates first drew interest from the Radford staff in November when his Clearwater Chargers club team participated in a tournament in Raleigh, N.C., that is frequented by scouts.

"Radford watched him play at our Lecanto match," Calabrese said. "He didn't score any goals, but his runs off the ball and his passes were impressive enough for them."

Smith watched him play in the Sun Bowl tournament, followed his progress through the high school season and targetted him for his 2001 recruiting class.

"You get a lot better feel in club because it's more competitive, you have less time to make decisions," Smith said. "We liked how he handled himself."

A $3,000 partial athletic scholarship and other monies will provide Bates $11,000 of Radford's $16,000 tuition.

Bates said he hopes to major in physical therapy.

Radford finished 12-10-0 this fall, winning the Big South Conference title for the second consecutive year and losing to Furman in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Highlanders' 2001 team contained three Floridians, including former Hillsborough High School midfielder Andre Lewis, a sophomore.

Stephen Bates is off to Radford

What's a highlander?

LOCATION: Radford University is in Radford, Va.

NICKNAME: A Highlander is one from the mountainous region of northernmost Scotland. In this case, western Virginia applies.

FOUNDED: 1910.

ENROLLMENT: 8,500.

COLORS: Red, Blue, White.

AFFILIATION: NCAA Division I.

CONFERENCE: Big South.

SOCCER COACH: Spencer Smith.

ALL-TIME RECORD: 238-206-44.

NCAA TOURNAMENT APPEARANCES: Nine.

Bates' senior statistics

GOALS: 25.

ASSISTS: 8.

CRITIQUE: "He's a very technically sound player. His technical ability and awareness are far superior to anyone around here." -- Springstead coach Sal Calabrese.

- BRANT JAMES

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