A lot of athletes “leave it all on the field.” But not everyone sees the field like Will Oates saw it.
Oates’ “field” went beyond football; it was an extension of his jobs, the people he loved and the legacy he would eventually leave.
And that legacy he left is even more apparent this week. Oates, a 24-year-old Ballston Spa resident, died tragically on Oct. 7 when a tree collided with his vehicle in Clifton Park during an unprecedented storm.
A fundraiser for Oates’ funeral services, which took place Tuesday, raised $16,000, well over its $2,500 goal. In recent days, friends and family shared their stories of Oates’ impact on their lives, and one thing was certain: Will Oates gave everything. To his jobs. To his country. And above all else, to those who loved him.
“He was a very hard-working person who always gave 110 percent,” said his older brother, Ugalee. “He was a very outgoing, funny and a caring person who would give the shirt off his back to anyone. My most favorite memory would be just taking a Sunday drive together and talking about our plans about life and hanging out.”
Oates’ friends Jasper and Julius Graves saw Oates as inseparable from them. The twin brothers, who not only played football, but also worked and lived with Oates, said he was more like their “triplet.” They joked about the label, too.
“It was crazy. He’d call himself the ‘triplet,’ ” Julius said. “It was awesome just to know that without having someone being born into your family, you can create a bond like that just through living life, we’re all going through the same stuff.”
The trio met around 2004 when the twins moved into the Ballston Spa school district. There weren’t many other Black kids in their class, Julius said, so he felt drawn to Oates, who soon became someone he looked up to.
“We always stuck together,” Julius said. “My first impression of him was, ‘Wow, this kid is just as big as me and my brother.’ He was just as strong, too. But he was goofy, though. He was so strong and athletic and everything, but still goofy.”
The three and their large friend group found a spark playing football together in their early years, with Jasper and Oates continuing that chemistry throughout high school. As a teammate, Oates wasn’t “overly outspoken,” but he still set a positive example for his younger teammates with his athletic abilities alone.
“He wasn’t very verbal, but [we] looked to him as the kid that’s gonna make the play,” Jasper said. “If he’s going as hard as he can, that’s driving me to work as hard as him. A lot of kids in our community and high school looked up to him. He was always that kid to have his name called on announcements for all his football accolades. He was everybody’s shoulder. When we’d be in the trenches in a game, he’d be like, ‘Come on, bro, we got this.’ ”
As for his often game-saving performances on the field, his former coach Dave Murello remembers him as a quiet player who was “explosive” defensively when needed. He thinks much of Oates’ quietness came from not recognizing his own athletic talent. During his junior and senior years, though, Murello said Oates started really shining.
Oates’ biggest game, Murillo said, occurred in week nine of his senior year, when Ballston Spa played a crossover game against Gloversville. After already having an outstanding game, with three sacks and several quarterback pressures against an “outstanding” QB, Oates didn’t stop delivering for his team until the final quarter ended.
“They had the ball for the last possession of the game,” Murello said. “He was beat up and limping a little bit. I clearly remember the pressure that Will put on the QB those last four plays of the game including a sack for a loss of 10 yards. It’s very cliché to say ‘leave it all on the field,’ however he really did in the last game that he played for us.”
Football is also what brought Oates close to his girlfriend, Kaitlyn Mackin, who met him in 2012 when she was a freshman cheerleader and he was a junior on the football team. At the time, she said, he was “funny and loved by everyone.”
“Will was so loving, hardworking, and loyal,” Mackin said. “It didn’t matter who you were or what you wanted, he would try to do what he could for you.”
His drive to help others was apparent when he joined the Army National Guard after graduating from high school in 2014. During his three years of service, Oates’ best friend, Pvt. Michael Mattice, died in a motorcycle accident in 2015. That event took an emotional toll on Oates, his friends said.
“He was one of those people who always liked to be around his friends and that helped him cope [with Mattice’s death],” Jasper said. “When I moved in with him, I noticed the change in happiness just having people around at all times.”
Oates kept himself busy with work after high school, sometimes giving himself little time to sleep, his friends joked. For the last few years, Mackin and the Graves brothers watched Oates take on multiple jobs at once — as a laborer at VerMac Construction and Capstone Logistics, as well as a bouncer at various bars in downtown Saratoga. He even helped the twins secure jobs at Saratoga City Tavern. Both said they’ll never forget those drives to work together.
“He was like, ‘Make more money! We can always make more money,’ ” Julius laughed. “He would get two hours of sleep some days just to go make money, and we’re just like, ‘Dude, you gotta enjoy your time.’ And he was like, ‘This is me enjoying my time. I’ll enjoy it more some other time.’ ”
Oates also kept an itinerary of long-term goals in the back of his mind.
“Will’s biggest goal was to be successful,” Mackin said. “He continually took on new hobbies, trades, etc. He was going to start looking into underwater and welding school in the coming year. He loved to learn and he worked so hard because he wanted to make his dreams come true. Those dreams being never having to want for anything, to build his own home, to own and work on motorcycles and muscle cars.”
Even though Will’s life ended last week, his loved ones are determined to preserve the legacy of his protective and comforting personality and his love for his family for the rest of their lives.
For Mackin, one memory sticks out when thinking of Oates’ impact on her life. A year ago, when she was still in college, she told Oates she was having a bad day.
“Will came by to have dinner with me and he brought me flowers and greeted me with the biggest hug,” Mackin said. “There are so many more memories, maybe some more meaningful, but I think that epitomizes the person that he was, especially to me. He took such good care of me.”
“The loss of Will is felt immensely by so many people,” she continued. “I think and I hope his impact will be for people to focus on the things that are important and work hard toward what they want because anything is possible. I’m such an anxious person and I worry about everything and he kept me grounded and reminded me that everything isn’t always so serious and I don’t always need to worry. Life is too short to always be worried about things that aren’t bettering you or your future. And definitely don’t take anything for granted.”