A commitment more than 16 years in the making became official Wednesday night at The Opening when outside linebacker Dillon Bates followed in his father's footsteps and pledged to the Tennessee Volunteers.
Vols fans waited patiently as the all-star skills challenge in Beaverton, Oregon, pushed back Bates' announcement multiple times before they finally aired his commitment. The Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., four-star prospect chose UT over Florida and Alabama. He had offers from virtually every top program in the country and picked Tennessee over more than 35 offers.
Despite the wait for the official announcement, it would have been a major surprise had Bates gone anywhere else. As a matter of fact, all 49 predictions on 247Sports had Bates following in his father's footsteps. After all, Bill Bates is a Tennessee legend who happens to be Dillon's father. His father and mother are both from Farragut, and the kid has been dyed-in-the-wool. Anything other than a future in Knoxville would have been unacceptable.
Still, given the state of the program recently, you hold your breath and hope -- even in the most probable circumstances. Vonn Bell was supposed to be a Vol, too, but he'll be playing for Urban Meyer and his Thugeyes this season.
As for Bates, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound 'backer said on ESPN after his announcement that he will play Sam or Will for Tennessee, and he has a very strong chance to play a lot immediately with six UT linebackers exhausting eligibility after this season.
"I'll be playing at the University of Tennessee," Bates told a national audience on ESPNU. "That whole coaching staff has done a great job with this past class and the class coming up. ... I'm just ready to get up there and get to work."
When asked about family pressure to go to Knoxville and play for the Big Orange, Bates said it didn't play a role. Bates' father is Tennessee All-American and former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro safety Bill Bates, and orange and white seemingly ran through his blood.
"From the very beginning, they told me there's no pressure whatsoever, so to make my own decision. That decision just so happened to be Tennessee.
"That would have been really nice staying in-state, but we had family in Tennessee also, so it'll be like a second home to me."
Bates has a very projectable frame that could easily hold another 15-20 pounds. He also ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at The Opening and tested out 12th out of all the players at the all-star event, which hosts the nation's best. Bates is known for being one of the best coverage linebackers in the country, he also is a very sure tackler and just a quality all-around player. He'll almost undoubtedly see immediate playing time in Knoxville.
247Sports rates Bates as the No. 18 outside linebacker in the nation and the country's 204th-rated player overall. With this week's performance, analysts have noted he is set to receive a big bump in the ratings. Rivals has Bates as the country's No. 3 outside linebacker and the 59th-rated overall player. Scout has him as a four-star and the 13th-ranked OLB. ESPN believes Bates is the nation's third-ranked OLB and 92nd-best player in the country.
Regardless, he's a major coup for the Vols, who were not really in his top list last year. As was the case with Jalen Hurd, Todd Kelly Jr., Vic Wharton and many others, Bates just wasn't all that excited about playing for UT if Derek Dooley was the coach. Once Tennessee got rid of that problem, Butch Jones has recruited the entire Bates family and sold them all on Dillon committing to the Big Orange.
Bates joins Kelly, Wharton and Neiko Creamer as Tennessee legacies to pull the trigger. The only duo remaining from The Legacy Class is Evan and Elliott Berry, who are believed to be heavily favoring UT as well.
This is one of the biggest bricks in Jones' first full recruiting class, and it solidifies what is currently a top seven class on 247Sports and a top five class on Rivals. Bates joins four-star JUCO OLB Chris Weatherd, three-star MLB Gavin Bryant and two-star OLB Jerome Dews as Tennessee linebacker commits. Creamer also could grow into that position since he's currently 6-4, 225. Tennessee also is believed to be high on the list of four-star linebacker Kevin Mouhon of Norcross, Ga., and the Vols are in the top three with LSU and Florida for five-star 'backer Clifton Garrett.
But Bates was the one UT had to have. When you've got the opportunity to pull a player of Bates' caliber who have the program ties that he does, you have to capitalize. Jones has shown a propensity to do that, and now Bates will roam the Neyland Stadium turf where his father excelled.
Welcome home, Dillon!