Posted: 7:20 pm Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
By Matt Porter
A future as an Ivy League graduate would have suited Gage Batten. However …
“I would be kicking myself if I didn’t try to play in the SEC,” Batten said.
Auburn is giving him that chance.
Batten, a standout linebacker last season at Dwyer and at King’s Academy before that, had the academic credentials to attend many of the nation’s top colleges, or play football at Ivy League institutions like Harvard, Yale and Brown. But big-time football schools didn’t want him after signing day last February.
Batten believed he could play, and in May, his patience paid off when Auburn scooped him up.
“He obviously had the Ivy League route, but Gage decided he wanted to play at a higher level of football,” Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said.
Batten, a burly, cerebral middle linebacker, was named The Palm Beach Post All-Area defensive player of the year last year as a senior. His work off the field also made him The Post‘s All-Academic boys scholar-athlete of the year.
Batten didn’t have big-time college offers leading up to signing day in February, but Ivy League schools Harvard, Yale and Brown wanted him to play there. In the spring, college programs began to assess needs. Mississippi wanted him as a fullback. Florida and Auburn also reached out.
“He was a full academic kid at Florida and at Auburn. He was leaning toward Florida and had met with the coaches, and was going to walk on there,” Daniels said.
After Auburn finished its spring practice in May, it needed depth at middle linebacker for new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s freshly installed 4-3 scheme. The Tigers also needed another fullback.
So Auburn, the alma mater of Batten’s mentor and King’s Academy alum Heath Evans, started calling.
“They made it clear that they wished they had signed Gage, but it was obviously too late at that point – they didn’t have any scholarships left,” said Daniels, who runs a 4-3 at Dwyer. “They wanted Gage to come up. He met with [VanGorder] and left with a grasp of the defense, probably as good a grasp as any of the coaches.”
Batten’s intelligence helped him produce last year despite an ankle injury that caused him to miss most of his pre-senior year summer training. He led Dwyer in tackles (74) and tackles for loss (15) on a defense that allowed 46 rushing yards per game, shut out four teams and allowed 10 or more points three times.
He was a much better player while training with Dwyer this spring.
“He was a little slow for us at one time,” Daniels said. “I don’t think he ever fully recovered from his ankle last year. He made some changes in his diet. I didn’t have a good feel for his quickness — if he had a weakness, it was his quickness. He started doing drills for us this spring; I was amazed with how well he could change direction. The changes in his diet, and the hurt of not getting anything [at signing day] I think made him work that much harder.”
Batten is still focused on academics – he’s a pre-med major in Auburn’s honors college and wants to minor in business. That’s a relief to his mother, Ann, and father, Greg.
“The journey has been interesting,” Greg Batten said. “For him to turn down the Ivy Leagues, for a family that preaches education …”
Last May, Batten stood at the edge of a Dwyer football practice field talking about the future. He knows a football career, even one that includes Pro Bowls, will be fleeting.
“No matter how good you are — linebacker, I’m done, 33, 34, you know?” he said. “Even if I make it to the league, my body’s not going to last that long. You’ve got 50, 40 more years you’ve got to live without football.”
He promised his parents he’d graduate from Auburn with honors. He’s pushing just as hard at building a football career.
“Gage comes in the film room every day,” Auburn linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. “He is really dedicated and wants to study the game. He’s really strong for a young guy. He’ll have a chance here.”
This story was updated at 10:36 a.m. on August 5, 2012