Trevor Bates arrived at the University of Maine in 2011 as in-state football recruit with considerable potential.
On Saturday afternoon, the soft-spoken defensive end from Westbrook was picked in the NFL draft.
Bates was selected in the seventh round by the Indianapolis Colts and was the 239th overall pick.
“It’s amazing, absolutely amazing,” Bates said from his home in Westbrook, where he spent the day with his mother, his step-father, his grandmother and his girlfriend.
“He came in on a $1,000 scholarship and he’s turned himself into an NFL draft pick,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak, who was the Black Bears’ defensive coordinator the last two seasons.
“The kid played at Maine, he got drafted in the NFL, and he’s from Westbrook,” he added. “I think that’s pretty cool. He’s just a great kid and it couldn’t happen to a better person.”
As a draftee, Bates joins select company at UMaine. He is the first Black Bear to be drafted since cornerback Kendall James was taken in the sixth round (184th overall) in 2014 by the Minnesota Vikings.
He is among only 16 Black Bears selected in the NFL draft and is just the fifth since 1990. That group includes Jerron McMillian (Packers, 2010, 4th round), Daren Stone (Falcons, 2007, 6th) and Kevin McMahan (Raiders, 2006, 7th).
Bates’ former UMaine teammate, center Bruce Johnson, also was picked up by an NFL team as he signed a free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Johnson, a three-year starter at Maine, was a two-time All-CAA first team selection and was honored as the 2015 FCS Rimington Award winner, presented to the top center in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Bates was among only eight players drafted this year by the Colts. They took only one other linebacker, Antonio Morrison of Florida (4th round).
“That was a team I kind of wanted to play for based off the coaches and the visits and the relationships I developed. I felt like that was the best place for me,” said Bates, who spoke with Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson prior to being selected in the seventh round.
“He said, ‘we’re going to take you with that next pick’ and I was at a loss of words. All I could really say was yes, sir, thank you,” Bates said. “It means so much. I still can’t really wrap my head around it, but I’m ready to get going and start this new family out there and compete with my new-found brothers and I’m just so thankful.”
Drafted NFL rookies receive a four-year contract, although there is limited guaranteed money for players chosen after the second round. Rookie salaries are based on the league’s salary cap and its rookie compensation pool.
The second factor limits how much NFL teams can spend on a rookie’s contract, both in the first year and over the four-year span. According to Forbes, the first-year minimum salary for 2015 was $435,000.
Bates did not want to discuss the details of his potential deal.
“That’s not really my concern,” he said. “I’m just trying to soak it all in. I’m very thankful. I’m ready to compete.”
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Bates played almost exclusively at end for UMaine, but is being projected as a linebacker. Harasymiak said there will be a transition not only between positions, but to the speed of the game.
“He’s a guy that hopefully can contribute right away on special teams,” he said.
“Knowing him and knowing how hard he works, and obviously they have great coaches out there with the Colts, he’ll run with it,” Harasymiak added.
Bates will have at least two people with whom he can share some UMaine memories in Indianapolis. Former Black Bears offensive line coach Frank Giufre (2007-2011) is the Colts’ offensive quality control coach.
“As soon as I got out to Indy for the team visit he was one of the first guys I saw,” Bates said. “It was all love. He gave me a big hug and we talked. It couldn’t have worked any better. He told me he’s going to be there for me if I need anything and he’s always a phone call away. I thank God he blessed me this way.”
Former UMaine offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Joe Gilbert (1994-1999) is an assistant offensive line coach with Indianapolis.
Bates was an All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team selection last fall after making 57 tackles, including a team-best 7½ sacks. The three-time all-league choice ranked third in the CAA with 14½ tackles for a loss of yardage.
Harasymiak said it is Bates’ character that will help set him apart as he tries to play the game at the highest level.
“He’s a great player, but he does so many things off the field, in the community,” he continued. “He’s a role model for young players. They’ve gotten a great kid.”
In 46 career games at UMaine, Bates registered 207 tackles (35 for a loss), and had 19 sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and nine pass breakups.
Bates said he will fly to Indianapolis next Thursday for rookie camp, followed by mini-camp. He knows he faces a huge challenge to make the roster.
“Just because you get drafted, it doesn’t completely ensure your roster spot, so I’ve got to go out there and I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Bates said.
Notable recent UMaine players in the NFL, all of whom were free-agent signees, include Justin Perillo of Green Bay (2014), Jovan Belcher of Kansas City (2009), Matthew Mulligan of Miami (2008), Mike DeVito of the New York Jets (2007) and Montell Owens of Jacksonville (2006).
Bates is an edge rusher, which is a need the Colts are trying to fill. Other rushers on the Indy roster are Robert Mathis, Trent Cole and Erik Walden.