Walk-On Battles his way onto playing field

ATHENS - Coaches looked at Tra Battle when he scampered around for Mary Persons High and liked him.  They saw a player who went all out, knew what he was doing and was a leader. On a high school football field, he stood out. They saw a kid, though, who they didn't think was big enough to warrant a Division I scholarship.

 One problem: they didn't measure his heart.

 The standard gauges of speed in the 40 and bench press never seem to include work ethic and pride and, as the saying goes, the size of the fight in the bulldog rather than the size of the bulldog in the fight.

 And for the second time in his career, Tra Battle's a hard-nosed Bulldog.

 The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder graduated in May from one home of the Bulldogs - players touch a golden bulldog at the top of a hill entering the Mary Persons' field - and took up residence in the home of another set of Bulldogs.

 Auburn talked to him, but didn't offer a scholarship. Neither did Georgia Southern, Furman, Valdosta State or Tennessee-Chattanooga, he says.

 Battle (whose first name is pronounced trey) is yet another example of the inexact science of recruiting, as well as recruiting rankings. He accepted Georgia's offer to come to campus as a preferred walk-on.

 Suddenly, a undersized kid overlooked by colleges and misidentified by the university as coming from a different high school, is already a poster-child student-athlete.

 Battle graduated with a 3.5 average and 1070 SAT score from Mary Persons, and is majoring in chemistry with the goal of becoming an anesthesiologist. Among his classes this 17-hour semester:  calculus, history, English, and physics.

 But his size didn't fit the mold for most major colleges.

 "They told me I was undersized," he says of the Bulldogs' outlook during the recruiting process. "So they offered a scholarship to somebody who was more attractive size-wise."

 It's worth noting that whoever that bigger defensive back was, he sat Saturday afternoon while Battle played, and made the tackle on his first play as a college football player.

 Battle is surrounded by sisters when his family is at mother Tonya's house in Forsyth. Oldest sister Tarshera works at a hospital in Orlando, and Taviana is a nurse at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. Avan is employed by the Macon Police Department, and Tasasha is the youngest at 13.

 He's played basketball since he was seven, but football became a better option when he stopped growing on the outside.  On the inside, the growth continues.

 Battle came to Athens early in the summer to start working out and take classes in English and psychology.

 "I didn't want to come in the fall," he says. "College football being so much work, I took some classes in the summer to get going."  It has clearly paid off.

 "He learned the system well; he learned it in a short time, like from summer to now," says senior safety Sean Jones, the leader of the secondary. "I think that's why they stuck him out there for the Clemson game."

 Thomas Davis, a linebacker playing safety for a few weeks, wasn't surprised at how well Battle played against the Tigers.

 "He knew that we needed him, so he worked hard on what he had to get done," says Davis, a redshirt sophomore. "We had a lot of confidence in Tra."

 Battle has become a walk-on in name only. In fact, he says many teammates didn't know of his status until defensive ends and special teams coach Jon Fabris mentioned it in a meeting.

 "He said, 'I don't care if he is a walk-on, he shows that he cares,'" Battle recalls with smile, then relates a thrill highlight, courtesy of defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. "In a radio interview after the Clemson game, Coach Van Gorder said he was pleased with my performance. From the defensive coordinator. Yeah, that felt good."

 It is a simple task to pinpoint why Battle is playing. Football ability aside, teammates and coaches can't talk about him without noting first and foremost his attitude.

 "He's more mature than the average freshman," Jones says. "Me and some other guys told the coaches about him. He worked nonstop. He impressed his teammates. He worked nonstop."

 Adds Davis: "He works so hard. We just knew he was gonna go out and give his all."

 Battle knows part of the reason he rose up the depth chart so quickly was because of injuries and suspensions. But he also knows those aren't the only reasons.

 "I knew inside I could compete on this level," he said. "I could always put on the weight, increase my speed. I go out there and I don't expect anybody to outwork me.

 "I knew the one advantage I had was my heart."

 And, as a guy who's living up to his last name, he shows there's no measuring stick for that.


High school: Mary Persons
 Size: 5-11, 170
 Class: true freshman
 Position: rover/safety
 Major: Chemistry
 High school highlights: All-Middle Georgia as a senior; four-year
two-way starter; went to playoffs all four years; team defensive MVP as
a junior and offensive MVP as a senior; competed in state track meet in
300 hurdles, 110 hurdles, and two relay teams.

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