By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The entire time he played football for the University of Alabama and Tennessee Titans, Todd Bates was a poet. His teammates just didn’t know it.
All rhymes aside, the big, burly defensive end didn’t know how his creative side would be accepted in the locker room, so he kept the side project a secret. Only after graduating from college and spending a short stint in the NFL did Bates feel comfortable enough to share his passion for poetry.
Nowadays, Bates is much more than a poet. He’s also an author, husband and father who spends his summers as a coach and mentor to kids at football camps all across the state. From May 31-June 1, Bates will be on hand at Heritage Park as part of the sixth annual Castille Character Camp’s star-studded lineup.
“We’re different from the crown of our heads to our toes, but everyone of us has something to offer,” said Bates, who penned the popular motivational poem “The Bama Way.” “My goal is to find what their talent is. We want to help them realize every gift they have and show them how to achieve it.”
On top of putting on his own camp in his hometown, which has been a Heflin, Ala., fixture since 2007, Bates hasn’t hesitated to join fellow Tide alum Jeremiah Castille and crew every time the camp has come to Cullman.
“He really cares about kids and their well-being, the discipline they need to succeed in life and that everything in life is worth working for,” Bates said of Castille. “It’s not every day you can find an organization that embodies everything you believe in. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”
And don’t forget the football aspect of the free two-day event, either. This year’s camp will get going May 31 from 4:30-7 p.m. with four quarters — combine drills, speed and agility, position drills and competition — and a halftime character-skills session led by Castille.
It will continue June 1 with a pair of speed and agility sessions — one for first-third graders from 8:30-11 a.m. and another for fourth and fifth graders from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. — run by two-time Olympic gold medalist Willie Smith.
“You can never work fundamentals or techniques too much,” Bates said. “A lot of people don’t have time during practice, but we’ve got a whole period just for tackling. If we can get kids walking away knowing how to coach the actual coach up, then we’ve got a lot accomplished.”
Skills and drills are plenty important, but for the entire Castille Character Camp staff, so is faith. Bates will have the opportunity to share his at 6 p.m. on June 1 at St. John’s Church in Christ Hall, where he’ll close the camp as a guest speaker.
“I’m not an ordained minister, but football is my ministry, it’s my field, it’s what I was called to do,” Bates said. “We want to test the heart of these kids. We want them to improve as young Christian men. If they don’t know God, we want to introduce them.”
Friday and Saturday’s football events are open to the first 150 participants in grades 6-8, as well as the first 150 participants in grades 9-12. The closing session, however, is open to the public.
Bates, who recently moved back to Alabama after spending two years as an assistant coach at Idaho State University, will hold his own camp July 6 at the Heflin Recreation Center.
“It’s been a blessing. These kids, they give us purpose,” he said. “They give us a reason to wake up in the morning as a coach. I really enjoy pouring into kids what I was blessed to learn through the way that I walk. I’m not perfect by any means, but I strive every day to get better.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.