After just two games, kicker Jake Bates of the United Football League (UFL) Michigan Panthers may have just earned another opportunity to play in the NFL.

In the opening week of the UFL season—a new minor league created this year following the merger of the XFL and United States Football League (USFL)—Bates, 24, scored a 64-yard field goal to help the Panthers defeat the St. Louis Battlehawks.

During the second week, Bates successfully executed a 62-yard kick against the Birmingham Stallions on Sunday. His performance in the first week not only established a new early record in the UFL but also exceeded the previous records set in the XFL and USFL precursor leagues.

Bates came within just two yards of equaling Justin Tucker’s NFL record of 66 yards, achieved in September 2021 during a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Lions, which ended with a score of 19-17 in favor of the Ravens. His exceptional kicking abilities have garnered interest from NFL teams.


UFL Kicker Attracts NFL Interest After Making A Single Field Goal


According to the Detroit News, the Lions, along with several other NFL teams, have contacted the UFL to connect with Bates following his impressive start to the season. Bates initially joined the Houston Texans in 2023 but was released after just two weeks.

Interestingly, Bates’ record-breaking kick in the first week marked his first competitive attempt since high school. He didn’t kick at all during college, instead focusing on soccer before transitioning back to football. He spent two seasons at Central Arkansas from 2018 to 2019.

Subsequently, he transferred to Texas State in 2020 to join the football team but was only entrusted with kickoff duties. Seeking a broader role, he moved to Arkansas in 2022, yet again finding himself primarily limited to kickoff duties.

Nevertheless, Bates has demonstrated to both college and NFL teams that he was undervalued, emerging as yet another talented kicker who made the transition from soccer. Despite the Texans witnessing his abilities firsthand, they signed him on July 31 but released him on August 12.

NFL teams are increasingly looking towards former soccer players when scouting for kickers, a tactic that proved successful for the Dallas Cowboys when they signed former MLS SuperDraft selection Brandon Aubrey. Following an unexpected turn in his soccer career, Aubrey began training three times a week with Mississippi State kicker and kicking coach Brian Egan.

After joining the Stallions, now part of the UFL but formerly associated with the USFL, his impressive kicking skills grabbed the attention of the Cowboys. This resulted in his signing prior to the 2023 season after Dallas terminated the contract of their previous kicker, Brett Maher.

In Aubrey’s debut season, he impressively converted 36 out of 38 attempts, concluding the year with a record-breaking rookie completion rate of 94.7%. His longest kick from the preceding season stood at an impressive 60 yards.

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