Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman is preparing for his second season in the NFL. In just a few months, he’ll be carving up defenses as he catches passes from veteran Pro Bowl quarterback Lamar Jackson. However, before becoming a pillar of one of the NFL’s best franchises or a four-star recruit with offers from Georgia, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M, Bateman was a member of USA Football’s U.S. National Team program as a high school junior and senior.
“The love and hospitality that the U.S. National Team treats their players with makes you feel like you’re in the NFL before you even get there,” Bateman said. “It definitely was a fun experience both times. The second time was really fun because I scored a touchdown. I’d do anything to go play for the U.S. National Team again.”
Bateman played on the U.S. 2017 U-18 National Team that beat Team Canada 26-0 in the North American Championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. He returned the following year as a member of the U.S. 2018 U-19 National Team, which defeated Canada’s National Team 47-7 in the International Bowl. In his second appearance on the international stage, Bateman made five receptions for 54 yards and scored a touchdown on a 15-yard reverse.
“There are so many memories, I don’t even know where to start,” Bateman said. “We were in Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex my first year. That was fun because it was the Pro Bowl and the first time I saw NFL players up close. I was able to see Odell Beckham Jr. That was really inspiring. I got a chance to meet Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott too. I took a picture with all of them that I still have. I remember that experience because that was the first time I saw NFL players.”
The 2018 U-19 National Team featured a plethora of star college players and some incoming NFL talent, including linebacker Brian Asamoah (Vikings), running back Hassan Haskins (Titans), and offensive lineman Darian Kinnard (Chiefs). Several of Bateman’s former teammates are still making waves in college, including Maryland wide receiver Jacob Copeland, Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders, and Utah running back Tavion Thomas.
However, during his time at Tift County High School (Ga.), Bateman was uncertain if he would play football in college.
“Around my junior year of high school, questions started coming up about my future because I was committed to Georgia Southern for football at the time,” Bateman recalled. “I was ready to put down football and commit to Virginia Tech to play basketball. I just stayed true to the game because I know football is what I love most, and all the hard work paid off.”
Bateman’s high school production skyrocketed during his final season. According to MaxPreps, the Tifton, Ga. native nearly doubled his receiving totals, improving from 825 yards as a junior to 1,539 yards as a senior. He also scored 21 touchdowns in 2017 after reaching the end zone five times in 2016.
Bateman committed to the University of Minnesota, where he set the records for receptions (51) and receiving yards (704) by a freshman and receiving yards (1,219) and receiving touchdowns (11) for a sophomore. He declared for the 2021 NFL Draft following his junior season, and the Baltimore Ravens made him the 17th overall pick.
Persevering through doubt in high school to become one of football’s top players helped Bateman learn lessons he gladly shares with young athletes.
“I would tell young athletes to believe in themselves and always be coachable. I think those two things go hand in hand,” Bateman said. “Believe in yourself and have confidence in what you do and the work you put in, but allow yourself to be coached by experts who have done this for years. Have an open mind. I think that’s something I’ve struggled with, and it’s still something I’m learning to adapt to every single day, just like everybody else.”
Bateman’s NFL journey is just beginning, but he’s already counted among USA Football’s extensive U.S. National Youth Tackle Team alumni network, which includes fellow first round wide receivers N'Keal Harry (Patriots) and Jalen Reagor (Eagles) and All-Pros Jonathan Taylor (Colts) and Wyatt Teller (Browns).