GATOR BOWL NDs Battle lives up to his name
The former quarterback has found a future at wide receiver.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Only the left wrist was broken. Enough, perhaps, to force most college quarterbacks to the sidelines.
But Arnaz Battle treated his broken wrist as a mere nuisance against Nebraska on that steamy September day at Notre Dame more than two years ago.
Battle was making just his second career start, taking on the top-ranked team in the country.
With his passing game rendered ineffectual, he ran the ball 14 times for 107 yards as his Irish fell just short of a huge upset in a 27-24 overtime loss.
It was the last time he played quarterback. By the end of the season, a trio of freshmen, including current starter Carlyle Holiday, had claimed his position. Battle astutely agreed to switch to wide receiver.
Though he sustained a fractured fibula last season that kept him out of four games, and suffered through an option offense that kept him from making much of a contribution in the remaining seven, Battle simply was grateful to have the opportunity to suffer.
For the sociology and computer applications major, football is just a game, a garnish more than a main course on his menu.
Today, the fifth-year senior will play his last game for 10-2 Notre Dame against 10-3 North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl. Though he may not be under center, his acrobatic catches and his breathtaking runs could make him the center of attention.
After catching only five passes in a truncated 2001 campaign, Battle picked up 48 receptions for 702 yards -- including a game-winning 60-yard touchdown at Michigan State and a game-starting 65-yard touchdown at Florida State.
"He's an NFL player," said Irish receivers coach Trent Miles, who spent one season working with the Green Bay Packers' wide receivers. "He'll be making his living on Sundays. And his best football is ahead of him."
Battle always had the athletic ability. As a high school recruit, he visited only powerhouses -- Nebraska, Notre Dame, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
And in one solid season, he has reminded folks of what his roommate, cornerback Shane Walton, noticed the first time he watched Battle practice in the spring of 1999.
"His ability to make plays was unbelievable," Walton said. "I like him at quarterback. I like the ball in his hands as much as possible."
So did Battle.
"If you're an outstanding athlete, you get infatuated with the quarterback position," said Irish coach Tyrone Willingham, a former Michigan State quarterback. "There's something about leading a team, if you have that kind of generalship in your blood or in your bones. So it was very difficult [for Battle] to move to receiver, where you don't have those kinds of opportunities to lead.
"This season has been one of the outstanding turnaround careers in one year. He's a young man who in some circles may have been given up for dead, and yet he found a way to raise himself from the ashes."