By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
Just 15 months ago, C.J. Bates suffered a knee injury in preseason practice that forced him to redshirt his first season at East Mississippi Community College.
Now, just a season later, Bates leads the team in receiving and he and his Lions are set to host Jones County Junior College for the MACJC State Championship at 2 p.m. Saturday in Scooba. A win there will likely push the Lions, ranked No. 2 in the nation, into the National Championship Game in December. JCJC is ranked No. 4 in the country.
“He has come back from the knee injury and done well,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said after EMCC’s 45-28 win over visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast last Saturday in the MACJC Semifinals. “You see he can still run.”
That, Bates can. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver hauled in five passes for 85 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, one from 5 yards out and the other being a key 49-yarder that helped EMCC pull away in the second half for the win.
“I have become a better player since high school, learning that everybody has a part to play and help the team,” Bates said. “In high school you have one or two very great individuals to help you out, but here everybody can play.”
Bates lead the team in receiving with 46 catches for 771 yards and seven touchdowns. There are 11 Lions who have at least 10 catches this season.
“It’s fun having help,” Bates said. “We all pull together and we all work together for the quarterback (Dontreal Pruitt), who is the boss. It’s a lot of fun having people coming to work trying to get better and reach the same goal.”
Bates was considered a top prospect coming out of high school, but in the end chose to attend EMCC, which was coming off a National Championship.
“To be honest, it was the best option for me coming out of high school,” he said. “I think it helped to better me as a player and a person.”
Bates is on target to graduate this year and will have to make another decision. He can either sign a scholarship with a four-year school and have three years of eligibility remaining, or return to EMCC for his sophomore season.
“I’m still thinking bout it,” Bates said. “I’m planning on leaving if I get the right offer, but if it’s best for me to come back, then I’m going to stay.”