Staff worried about Battle's size, not heart

ATHENS ­ Almost all college football players get the bulk of their coaching on the field. Not Tra Battle. Georgia's sophomore safety from Forsyth gets most of his in the halls of the training complex.

"It's become a ritual for the coaches to ask me: ‘Are you eating, Battle? How much to do you weigh? Keep eating,'" he said.

Secondary coach Willie Martinez said his daily conversations with Tra Battle go like this: "How many hamburgers did you eat today? How much pasta did you eat today?"

Battle, who has gone from walk-on to the Bulldogs' top backup at rover in two years, weighs 175 pounds, 15 fewer than he and his coaches would like.

"It's just my metabolism. I lose more than I can put on," said Battle, who said he weighs less every morning than when he went to sleep the night before.

While the quest to add those pounds continues, Battle will enter this season expected to play significant minutes for the No. 3 Bulldogs.

"His body is not physically as mature as it's gonna get, but he's very strong," Coach Mark Richt said. "He lifts more weight than it looks like he can lift."

Battle's power index, a measure of pound-for-pound strength, is the seventh highest on the team. He bench presses 295 pounds and squats 445 and also has a 40.5-inch vertical leap, the fourth highest on the team.

Still, it was size that kept Georgia from offering Battle a scholarship when he was coming out of MaryPersonsHigh School. Battle impressed Martinez during a UGA football camp prior to his senior season, but not enough to overcome concerns about his build.

"He's one of those guys you like but then you think, ‘I don't think he's quick enough to play corner, and I don't think he's big enough to play safety,'" Martinez said.

After deciding he couldn't take a risk on Battle with a scholarship, Martinez told the rest of the staff, "If we can get that kid (as a preferred walk-on), I think he'll be a football player."

The Bulldogs got lucky when nobody else offered Battle a scholarship, not Vanderbilt, not Middle Tennessee State, not Furman, not Grambling, not anybody.

"I wouldn't say I was bitter, but I was kind of hurt," he said. "I really expected to at least get an offer somewhere, but I just had to prove I could play."

He did that early on and saw his first action on the second snap of the season last year as he played in the Bulldogs' injury-depleted secondary. He went on to play in all 14 games and record four tackles.

"He's a very, very sharp guy, competitive guy, from the first day he got here (he was)," Richt said. "You got your freshmen class coming in and your walk-ons sometimes are off to the side feeling kind of like a walk-on. From the first day, he believed in himself, a lot of self-belief. Not a cocky guy, a good guy."

Battle earned a scholarship during spring practice, and his transformation to a full-fledged member of the team is now complete, as was evident early this week in practice when he sarcastically, loudly and repeatedly congratulated star receiver Fred Gibson for a 2-yard gain during an offense vs. defense drill.

"That's what I was playing for last year was a sense of belonging," Battle said. "I've wedged myself into that position."

He has overcome his size disadvantage with hard work and a quick mind, his coaches said. A chemistry major, Battle, "likes to learn," Martinez said.

"He's like a sponge. If he makes a mistake, he wants to know why. (And) he's a hard worker. He's a lunch box guy. You know what he is? He's the University of Georgia. He loves Georgia. He got all the intangibles you want. It's hard for a kid like that not to succeed at something."

Every time Battle was able to give somebody a rest or make a good special teams play last year it was considered a bonus for the Bulldogs. However, he has raised the bar now, and he knows it.

"Last year came as a surprise to everyone, myself included," he said. "A lot more is expected of me this year."

"Still the concern is size," Martinez said, "but he has a great heart."

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