Three years ago, Rashod Bateman was a wide receiver prospect out of Tifton, Georgia, with no scholarship offers, when he received his first from head coach P.J. Fleck at a satellite camp. He committed on the spot, and told 247 Sports’ Steve Wiltfong: “Today was just the day.”
Today is the day, as well, for Bateman, as he announced this morning that he plans to opt out of the 2020 fall football season amid uncertainty regarding the safety and health of student-athletes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Bateman will begin preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft, and the expectation is that he will be the Gophers’ first first-round draft pick since 2006.
First, this is the right call. Bateman has nothing left to prove at the college level. He is a phenomenal talent, and after two seasons at Minnesota already has NFL Draft pundits declaring him a first round pick. Bateman was one half of a historic wide receiver tandem a season ago, and even finished the year as the Big Ten’s Wide Receiver of the Year.
But for the fans, I feel your pain. I know a lot of people, myself included, were eagerly anticipating one more season of watching Bateman tear up Big Ten defenses. But even if he had decided to remain with the program, there is no guarantee we would have gotten one more season, with the cloud of COVID-19 looming and showing no signs of receding.
Many of us will no doubt add another “What if...” to the collection we’ve cultivated over many years as Gopher fans. But try not to dwell so much on a future that will never come to pass when you have memories from a past that no one can ever take away.
I would say, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” but I don’t know if I could ever live with myself for using that unironically. But the truth is that you don’t have dig far back in your memory bank to find a Bateman moment you’ll treasure for years to come.
Who can forget his game-winning touchdown against Indiana as a freshman?
His one-handed touchdown against South Dakota State?
His 66-yard touchdown catch to break the game open against Penn State, helping lead the Gophers to the one of the biggest wins in program history?
Or his three touchdown catches against Northwestern?
But I also don’t want to limit Bateman’s legacy to his on-field contributions. By all accounts, he has been an outstanding teammate and an excellent ambassador for the program. His position coach, Matt Simon, believes it would be difficult for anyone “to fully comprehend the impact you have had on our program, University, and state, both on and off the field.” There is no doubt he has helped elevate Minnesota’s profile as one of the best receivers in all of college football, and he’ll only continue to do so as he takes his talents to the NFL.
And never forget that even when Georgia head coach Kirby Smart came calling, Bateman stuck with Minnesota. He proved to be a man of his word in more ways than one.