Jaunida Hurt watched her son’s breakaway against Arkansas State while seated at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. She also noticed his reaction as Joseph Scates collected the ball but clapped his hands in frustration.
Hurt knew her son would overthink the mistake, so she grabbed her phone to text the receiver in Memphis. It was a photo of her youngest son, Joseph, wearing a shirt that said two words: Hi Dad.
“I didn’t say anything else,” Hurt said. “There was no doubt in my mind. I knew Joe was going to pull himself together.
Scates smiled upon seeing the text at halftime. That was all he needed to put the game behind him and in the fourth quarter he found redemption with a 51 yard touchdown catch in the Tigers’ 44-32 win.
“I didn’t really guess (the fumbling was) why she sent the picture, I thought she was just sending me a picture of my son,” Scates said. “But I think I know why she sent it just to keep me motivated and balanced.”
Scates, a junior, became the Tigers’ top deep threat in three games. As Memphis (2-1) hosts North Texas (2-2) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN+), the Iowa State transfer is averaging 50.3 yards on three catches thanks to two long touchdowns, including an 79-yard catch against Navy.
But it was his mum who planted the seeds of football and watered them by helping him manage his mental health. When Scates was 4, Hurt put him in a peewee league in Dayton, Ohio, despite his greatest love for basketball.
Since he was taller than most kids, he lined up at nose guard or defensive end, which he played in college. He never played catcher until ninth grade when he played at a junior college.
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“It was fun because I blew the (offensive) line every time because I was taller and faster than everyone. As thin as I was, I was strong enough,” said said Scates.
Basketball, however, still had a hold on him. When he entered Dunbar High School, he still dreamed of being like Kevin Durant. But Dunbar’s football coach Darran Powell told him to grab a helmet and give it a try. With his height (6ft 3in), speed and athleticism, Powell said, Scates had a brighter future in football.
He didn’t take the sport seriously until 10th grade, when he spent more time at catcher. Once he started getting college offers and became a four-star recruit, Scates started believing his coaches and started thinking about what he needed to do to play college football.
Her perspective also changed with the birth of her first son, Ayden, in the same year. Scates has already helped his mother raise her two brothers, so when Ayden was born he knew he had to do even more to keep his future on track.
“It made me see life differently and realize it’s real,” Scates said. “I have a priority for the next 18 years.”
Hurt balanced his son’s praise with tough love. As the accolades grew, she often reminded her son that he still had room to improve. He had to stay hungry because the competition only got better in college.
But she also taught him to manage his emotions. Too often Scates would play angry or be hard on himself when he made mistakes. He also doubted he was as good as he was told because he was still a new receiver and felt he could improve.
Scates said he kept most of those feelings to himself because he saw how hard his mother worked as a single parent.
“She never asked for help, never complained once. She does it on our own, I see if she could do that what I’m going through is nothing,” Scates said. “She takes care of us, pays the bills.”
Hurt convinced Scates to start opening up more. She told him how often she asked for help and guided her son to be comfortable talking instead of taking the pressure on his own.
“It’s OK to cry and let off steam, but get up. Visit those moments of pain, but don’t settle into depression or frustration,” Hurt told his son.
Scates slowly began to confide more in her and her high school coaches. This helped keep his spirits up as he worked to improve his grades to be eligible for Iowa State. When he was suspended twice in 2018 for breaking team rules, Powell brought tough love but listened when Scates shared what he was going through.
Those talks paid off when he was introduced to Memphis fans. On his first target against Mississippi State in the season opener, Scates ran by a defender to open up but a long touchdown pass fell past him.
Hurt texted her with four praying hand emojis. After the game, Scates sent a calm reply: “I’m/we’re fine, mum, trust me.”
Two weeks later, Scates broke several Arkansas State tackles for a touchdown. Hurt didn’t need to text anything. She knew her son was doing well and was properly motivated.
More importantly, Scates knew he was good. As he pursues his next chapter in Memphis, he learns to trust his talents and the lessons of his mother. That’s more than enough payment for her to bring him to the sport.
“She is definitely one of the main reasons I still go there. My mom…she’s my best friend, honestly,” Scates said.
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