Dr. Todd DeBates bounces in and out of stalls at his dentist office, checking on his patients, reminding them to floss and asking how their family is doing. He weaves into the next room where a little boy is climbing over his chair wearing the North Dakota State green and yellow. He’s quick to point out the correct shade of green before excusing himself to take his portrait with us.
His snow-white goatee is deceptive when discovering his young and bashful mind, but it distinguishes him as a guy you’d let dig around in your mouth filling cavities and applying crowns.
For accomplishing so much over the past 25 years, you would almost suspect more arrogance from a man with a doctor title, but his candor spirit shines through, especially when he agrees to talk about his worst memory from his football career.
“The ball sailed over my head,” DeBates said about the infamous 1984 championship game-winning field goal by Troy State that interrupted the Bison’s run of excellence in the 1980s. “I’ve never watched the tape and I never will.” It was the only apparent mental scar from four years in the secondary for one of NDSU’s greatest safeties.
Before free safety Christian Dudzik was playing centerfield, with his timely interceptions shutting down opponent’s lasts prayers or Colten Heagle filling the alley on run plays like an extra linebacker, or even before Casey “Gus” Bradley, Ken Clark or Mikel Kallenbach and NFLers Craig Dahl or Nick Schommer, there was Todd DeBates. He was the man responsible for setting the tone for future safeties entering the Bison football program.
“I had the easiest free safety job in the history of NDSU football,” chuckles DeBates. Buffered on each end of the defense scheme, DeBates had two future professionals in Tyrone Braxton and Chris Servais as his cornerbacks.
The Bison football class of 1986 produced seven professional football players, a number not seen often from a division II program.
DeBates is right. A talented class surrounded him, but he was still in the thick of things over his four years, compiling a record of 47-5-1 and three division II national championships.
After graduating with a biology degree and a minor in chemistry, DeBates was accepted into the University of Nebraska School of Dentistry.
The Stewartville, Minn., native always had a curiosity for dentistry thanks to his childhood neighbor, Dr. Weinhold.
“I really enjoyed going into the dental office,” DeBates said. “Having my teeth cleaned, whatever they had to do. I was like, ‘You know, this would be a nice occupation,’ so he was like two houses down so I talked to him a little bit and said, ‘You should really look into it.’”
DeBates graduated from Nebraska’s dentistry school in 1991.[/text_output]
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[text_output]He had married his girlfriend, Deborah, who he met his sophomore year at Askanase Hall, in Psychology 103. They lived in Arizona for a year before deciding they missed the Midwest. They returned to the Fargo-Moorhead area in 1992.
DeBates’ first office was in Moorhead before teaming up with Dr. Tom Fellman at their current location in South University Dental Associates in Fargo. They will have been there for 20 years this August.
The former safety is also adamant about giving back to the school that gave him so many memories on the football field and with his wife Deb. He’s the team’s dentist and even though the job is very hands off, he still relishes the opportunity to converse and acquire personal relationships with the football players he helped build the foundation for in the mid-80s.
“Colten (Heagle) is coming to the office as a patient so he’s a former safety, I’m a former safety and we’re all former Bison players. So there’s always that connection that you have,” explains DeBates before describing his encounter with Schommer on the golf course. “As I drove by, Nick (Schommer) was on the greens and I said, ‘Play like a safety.’ It’s the connections, you don’t even need to know them; you just need to know what they’ve done, what they’ve gone through and I know they did the same things we did.”
DeBates and his wife started giving back to NDSU with their Dr. Todd and Deborah DeBates Family Football Scholarship last year, which is given to a member of the varsity football team that’s from Minnesota.
The DeBates adopted two children. Samantha will be entering her senior year at Davies High School and their “small bundle of joy” Micah will be a third-grader at Lincoln Elementary School.
DeBates said he chooses to look back at all the great things his team accomplished during his time at NDSU and is more than pleased with the success over the past four seasons.
“My dad is a little biased, but he would always say you guys were just as good,” jokes DeBates. “The pride I have from when I played to the pride I have now as a fan, watching these guys, it truly has been great. It’s been fun watching these guys.”[/text_output]