- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EVANSTON, Ill. -- When Martin Bayless met Hunter Bates on a recruiting visit to Northwestern, they soon realized they shared more than an interest in the same college.
Both players had fathers who logged lengthy NFL careers around the same time and at the same position.
Martin Bayless Sr. played safety for five NFL teams, most notably the San Diego Chargers, in a career that lasted from 1984-96. Bill Bates joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1983 and became an All-Pro special teams performer and safety in a 15-year career.
Their sons are now freshmen at Northwestern, adjusting to the demands of college football.
"You get a couple jokes here and there about, 'Oh, you look like your dad, you play like your dad,'" the younger Bayless said Thursday. "But it helps knowing the person next to you in the locker room has a dad just like you. They get the same jokes and they help you through it, just laugh it off."
Hunter Bates followed Bill's path and became a safety, while Martin Bayless Jr. diverted to wide receiver.
"We're getting to know each other, going against each other," Bayless said. "We talk about our dads a little bit, but our heads are more in the game right now, assignments and stuff."
College players with NFL lineages are common, but Northwestern's incoming freshman class features an extraordinary number of connections.
Offensive lineman Jeff Radek is a cousin of nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch, while offensive lineman Nick Adamle comes from a family of football stars. Adamle's grandfather Alex played at Ohio State before earning All-Pro honors with the Cleveland Browns and his uncle, Mike, starred as a running back at Northwestern before playing seven pro seasons.
Bayless matches Adamle with two uncles who played in an NFL and a cousin, former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, still in the league. His father helps run the oldest and largest free football camp in the country, with locations in California, Ohio and Texas.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sees Bayless and Bates as ordinary freshmen, but their connections to the sport certainly help.
"You can tell the guys who have been around the game a long time have a confidence level about them," Fitzgerald said. "Hunter Bates [is] out there catching punts. There was no special teams player arguably in the history of the NFL than Bill Bates. All those freshmen have some bloodlines, but they're freshmen. It's such a huge adjustment."
As Bayless makes the transition, he remembers his father's words.
"Just work hard," Bayless said. "If talent doesn't work hard, hard work will outwork talent."