Meet the Newest Detroit Lion Kicking Sensation From the UFL, Jake Bates

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It was the Michigan Panthers‘ first UFL game. The Panthers were down 15-16 to the St. Louis Battlehawks when Jake Bates took the field. With eight seconds left in the game, Bates, who hadn’t kicked a field goal since high school, lined up on the opponents’ 46-yard line.  

Meet the Newest Detroit Lion Jake Bates, UFL Kicking Sensation

One For The Record Books

The 64-yard kick was long enough but ruled invalid when the Battlehawks called a time-out. With two seconds remaining, the Panthers were forced to kick a second time. Could Bates make the kick again? Everyone on the field held their breath as he lined up and kicked, drilling it straight through the uprights. This time, his 64-yard field goal was good, and the Panthers emerged victorious 18-16.  

Bates’ field goal was not only the clutch game-winner, but it was the second-longest field goal ever kicked in a professional football game. Only one other recorded kick was longer, a 66-yard field goal by Baltimore Ravens veteran Justin Tucker.  

One Heck Of A Birthday Celebration

The day of that game, March 30, 2024, was Bates’ 24th birthday. As his jubilant teammates surrounded him in celebration, Bates had no idea his life was about to change. Bates’ performance and his grace under pressure in kicking not one but two, 64-yard field goals ignited a firestorm of publicity. Suddenly, he was on the radar of special teams coaches throughout the NFL, including the Detroit Lions. Who was this kid and where did he come from?  

Before The UFL

After playing two seasons of college soccer at Central Arkansas, Bates transferred to Texas State in 2020 and joined the college football team as a kickoff specialist.  In 2022, Bates transferred again, handling kickoffs for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Earning a reputation for his exceptional leg strength, he ranked fourth in the nation for distance kicks over 64 yards. In 2022, Bates was named to the All-SEC team. 

Bates signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent in July of 2023 to compete with Ka’imi Fairborn but was released a few weeks later. Although a professional football career seemed out of reach, everything changed when the UFL announced a new kickoff policy. Under the new rule, kickoffs required an 80-yard touchback, fifteen yards further than the NFL. Bates’ long-distance ability was suddenly in demand. He signed with the Michigan Panthers in December of 2023.   

An All-UFL Team Season

Bates made history with the Panthers kicking two other field goals during the regular season over 60 yards. A 62-yard field goal against the league-champion Birmingham Stallions on April 7th was followed up on May 5th with a 60-yard boot against the Arlington Renegades. In a UFL roster filled with other talented long-distance kickers, Bates continued to excel. He finished the season ranked second in the league after converting 17 of 22 attempts.

By midseason, reports of his sensational kicking had garnered attention throughout the NFL. It was no longer a question of “if” Bates would be signed to an NFL team. It was a question of which team would win the Bates lottery. On June 18, 2024, after meeting with several other NFL teams, Bates signed with the Detroit Lions. The two-year $1.98 million contract included $150,000 guaranteed and a $100,000 signing bonus. 

Bates will compete for the starting assignment against Lions field goal kicker Michael Badgley. Although Badgley brings plenty of NFL experience, he’s been notoriously unreliable in long-distance kicks. Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell is a gambler at heart and frequently goes for it on fourth down, but having a reliable kicker who can deliver from 60-plus yards is an advantage that opens up a world of options.

Coaching And Development

Bates has consistently kicked field goals indoors but has missed several kicks in outdoor stadiums when the wind has been a factor. He needs to work on this. Thankfully, Bates couldn’t have found a better spot to hone his talents. Campbell and the Detroit Lions coaching staff have an excellent reputation for bringing out the best in talented young athletes.

It will be interesting to see how Bates develops in training camp under the tutelage of special teams coordinator Dave Fipp. Lions tight end Sam LaPorta and running back Jahmyr Gibbs flourished in their rookie season under the direction of offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, overachieving their anticipated preseason contribution. If Fipp accomplishes the same results for Bates, he could have an outstanding season, and the Lions would gain a kicker who can convert long-range field goals in high-pressure playoff scenarios, one of the missing elements in their quest for a Super Bowl championship.   

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