Jackson Bates finished his high school career with an exclamation point.
Bates was named the best player in Class AAAAAA by Georgia High School Soccer after finishing his senior season with 19 goals and eight assists, helping Sprayberry go 13-5-1 overall and 6-2 in Region 6AAAAAA play.
Bates was also named team MVP and region player of the year.
The only downfall was the Yellow Jackets losing to Riverwood in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
For all his accomplishments, Bates was chosen the 2021 Cobb County Boys Soccer Player of the Year, as voted on by local coaches.
“The award means a lot because Cobb County is pretty big. It’s pretty big all-around,” Bates said. “I’m very grateful to have this award, honestly.”
The 2021 season was Sprayberry’s fifth under coach Aaron Wessner. After the Yellow Jackets went 3-13-1 in 2017, they improved to 14-3-2 in Bates’ freshman year, making the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Sprayberry has since made the state playoffs three times in the last four years, and Wessner said Bates was the leader of the class that turned the program around.
“He’s unlike any other player that I’ve ever coached. He’s definitely the best player I’ve ever coached in my 15 years of coaching,” Wessner said. “He’s just special. He’s a special kind of player.”
Wessner said that the manner of how Bates scored his goals was what made him special.
“If he needed to take one or two players on and beat him off the dribble, he could do that,” Wessner said. If he decided he wanted to cut in on his right foot and hit one from 35, 40 (yards) out, and then one in the corner, he could do that, too.”
Although Bates may have success scoring goals on the field, he and Wessner agreed it was what he did off the field that made this season what it was.
Bates said he trained every day, and Wessner said Bates is one of the hardest workers on the team.
“The biggest key to my success was really just training really hard,” Bates said. “I’ve been training every day, and I’ve been working in my backyard practicing skill moves and fitness. I’ve also been working with my coach a lot, fitness-wise. We’d been going to LA Fitness working on my body, trying to get a train, just to prepare for college.”
Bates said much of the credit for his season has to go to his father, Kent, who kept pushing Bates to continue to play soccer, even during tough times.
“There’s been some times where I’ve just wanted to quit and be done with (soccer), and he’s just been pushing me to grow and get farther, and he’s pushing me to go out and run when I don’t want to do it,” Bates said. “He’s definitely had a very big impact on my soccer career because he’s been training with me ever since I was a little kid, and he still does now.”
Bates will continue to play soccer at UAB. He said he wants to focus on his academics just as much as soccer with the Blazers so he can continue to play, and he said he hopes to play soccer professionally one day.