TAMPA — Xavier Townsend nodded toward Travis Bates Monday afternoon and said, “He’s my best friend. No doubt about that.”
Bates grinned. “For about as long we can remember,” he said.
The bond began in elementary school and grew stronger over the past 10 years as the two played side-by-side on the same football teams, all through youth league and the past four years at Berkeley Prep.
The senior running backs/receivers chuckled thinking back to the first time they met with Berkeley coach Dominick Ciao as freshmen.
“We thought, whoa, this guy is tough,” Bates said, shaking his head with Townsend. “You knew Coach Ciao was serious, that this was no joke.”
Though Ciao ran a tight, winning ship, Townsend said he and Bates could tell that he cared about them. Plus, it was comforting to have each other.
“It did take a little while to get adjusted here at Berkeley,” Townsend said. “But we quickly found our group of friends.”
It also helped that Townsend and Bates were heavily engaged from day one with the football team, both starting every single game from their first game as freshmen.
“Overall we have loved it here at Berkeley,” Townsend said. “We feel blessed.”
But as with anything, there have been a few frustrations, most notably last year’s 23-21 home loss to Hollywood Chaminade Madonna in a Class 3A semifinal.
Bates and Townsend think back to a few mistakes in the game, just enough miscues to be costly. A couple of lost fumbles and a failed fourth-and-3 attempt from their 30-yard line with three minutes remaining are particularly painful.
“Coach Ciao says in big games five or six plays can make all the difference, and that’s why you have to pay attention to detail on every single play,” Bates said. “We’ve learned that, and that’s why this time we believe it will be different.”
For the moment, “this time” means Friday night, when the Bucs (9-0) will host Bishop Verot (6-4) in a region semifinal.
No doubt, Verot is focusing on Townsend and Bates, who have often been electrifying this season.
Bates has rushed for 1,178 yards and 15 touchdowns on 102 carries, while Townsend has rushed for 712 yards and 15 touchdowns on 66 attempts. Townsend also has caught 16 passes for 391 yards and seven touchdowns and racked up 455 total yards on kickoff and punt returns.
Highlights include Bates’ 76-yard touchdown scamper on the season’s first play in a 35-21 victory over Clearwater Central Catholic and Townsend torching Newman High in Louisiana with four touchdowns, including a 75-yard run and 38-yard catch.
“They make big plays in big moments,” Ciao said. “They step up for their teammates, especially when the game is on the line. They are special young men in every way, and it has been such a pleasure to coach them.”
Bates and Townsend said they try to stay focused on the present, but sometimes it does hurt a little knowing that Townsend will be at Iowa State next fall and Bates at another school. While Bates remains undecided, he definitely plans to continue playing football at the next level.
“But we will always be in touch,” Townsend said. “We are like brothers to each other. There is no way we won’t keep talking to each other.”
Said Bates, “We will stay friends forever. I know that’s how it will be.”