Q&A with LEO Houston Bates
The camo sunglasses dangled around Houston Bates’ neck earlier this week. Hunting and the outdoors are near and dear to the Louisiana native’s heart. So is football. The junior LEO at Illinois will want to put forth a steady pass rush against Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg today at Beaver Stadium. If he does, maybe Illinois ends the three-game losing streak it is on. Maybe. But before Bates worried himself with getting to Hackenberg and containing Penn State’s rushing game, he sat down to discuss his favorite topic outside football (hunting), the reaction he received when he decommitted from LSU four years ago and who has the best beard among his roommates.
When did you shoot your first deer?
I killed my first one when I was 4, so I was a real youngster. My dad always took me to the stand and the duck blind with him. I fell in love with it. It’s my true passion.
Why do you like hunting?
Just the thrill, and it’s kind of a competition with you and the animals. I’m a true, true outdoorsman. I love everything about it.
How’d you get involved in hunting?
I was born in Pondville, La. It’s kind of a rural place, but our camp is in Mississippi actually. That’s where I do all my hunting, and that’s where we had all our land. I grew up going there every single weekend.
Were you worried about what hunting opportunities you’d have in Illinois?
It was kind of weird. I didn’t even think about hunting when I made my decision. I found out this is like the deer capital of the world. It was a bonus. (Spencer Harris) and I actually just got our license. When we came from Louisiana and Arkansas, we thought you had to get a non-resident license, which is like $400. We didn’t want to do that, and that kind of scared us. I looked into it, and it said you only had to wait for 30 consecutive days to be considered a resident, so we spent $30 on our license and tags and we could have been doing this the whole time.
What’s it like being back on the defensive line this year?
It’s fun. The last time I was on it was when I was in high school. I loved it then, and I love it now. I’m on a bigger stage now, but doing it more with a little bit of a versatile position.
Had you ever heard of the LEO position before you arrived at Illinois?
No. I knew Michael Buchanan played it last year. I wasn’t quite as big as him, but I thought I could do a little bit of damage there. I’ve done all right this year.
When your friends ask you what the LEO position is, what do you tell them?
They don’t know what I’m talking about when I tell them. I just tell them I’m a linebacker most of the time so I don’t have to deal with all the questions.
How would you rate your season this far?
I think I’ve done OK. Nothing too big in the stat books, but I’ve held my own and done my job. That’s all I really want to do is help my team. It would be nice to get eight sacks a game, but I just want to win. I’ll do anything I can to do that.
What was it like decommitting from LSU?
I got a ton of backlash from friends, family and everybody in the state of Louisiana, basically. If you get an offer from LSU and you’re from Louisiana, you go there, and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. I guess I was kind of the black sheep and didn’t do that, so I caught a lot of grief for that. I don’t regret it, though. I’ve come up here and made a ton of friends and had a lot of great experiences.
How different is Illinois compared to Louisiana?
It’s extremely different. The weather, first of all, and then the food. Louisiana does it right with the food, that’s for sure.
What are you eating in Louisiana?
I love crawfish pie. My mom makes it, and it’s unbelievable. She makes a great crawfish pie, jambalaya and duck gumbo. They’re all unbelievable.
What are your teammates’ reaction to the food you just mentioned?
They ask me what a crawfish is, first of all. Then they say, ‘I don’t know how you can eat something like that. That’s disgusting.’ Then I give it to them when my mom brings them up, and they fall in love with it. That’s how it works. I always tell my mom to bring up a little thing of crawfish pie for me.
Do you and fellow Louisiana native Alex Hill have a special bond since you’re the only two from the state on the team?
Definitely. He basically got me here. He was the one that called me after I decommitted from LSU and said, ‘Hey, you should come to Illinois. It’s a great place.’
What do you want to improve upon in the final five regular season games?
I need to step up more as a leader in that respect and keep guys on the right track. We’re going through a tough time right now, but the wins will come. We just need to keep working and keep going at it. There’s five games left on our schedule, and a certain amount of those are winnable games. We just need to understand we’re not bad. We just have to keep working at it.
How often does your family come up for games?
My mom has actually come up for more games this year than she’s ever come to, and that’s always nice to have her come up. They want to come to a lot. It’s just too hard with plane tickets and all that stuff. They don’t come to as many as they’d like to.
When you go home, do you fly or drive?
I fly. Driving home is 14 hours and it’s miserable. Every time I drive home, I tell myself I’m never doing that again.
You live with Mason Monheim, Spencer Harris and Taylor Barton. Who has the best beard?
Well, Spencer claims that he can grow the best one, but Mason definitely has the face for one. If he wanted to grow it out, he would beat all of us, but none of them would match up to my beard last year. My beard last year was pristine.
Are you a fan of “Duck Dynasty?”
Huge fan. I know those guys. They’ve hunted at my camp before. I knew them before they were “Duck Dynasty.” It’s funny knowing those guys and who they really are off the TV set is kind of cool. It just brings me back to my roots.
Do you watch LSU games when they’re on TV?
I try to. I had a lot of friends that went to LSU, and a lot of guys I know play for them. I get to see what they’re doing and text them after games.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
Man, I’m a pretty open guy, so everybody knows almost everything. I can probably survive by myself in the woods longer than anybody on the football team. I’m a true woodsman.
Obviously, the NFL is a goal for you. If that doesn’t work out, what do you want to do after college?
I want to go into hospital administration and work in the hospital. I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon originally, but I don’t want to go to school for that long. My stepdad is an anesthesiologist in New Orleans, and he wants me to do the whole surgeon route, but I can’t do that. I’ve always wanted to be affiliated with a hospital and help people.
Who’s your dream date?
A night on the town with Shannon Elizabeth or three sacks and a win at Penn State?
Three sacks and a win at Penn State. Football is my life. Girls will come later.