Back for Hopeful Season

49ers coaches couldn’t ask for a more willing or dedicated player than wide receiver Arnaz Battle. After almost a year of committed and intense rehab, the fourth-year receiver is also able.

Battle had high hopes heading into his 2005 campaign. After two seasons of playing mostly on special teams, Battle looked forward to emerging as a primary component of the 49ers offense. He was off to a good start too, catching his first career touchdown in the opener against St. Louis and throwing a 24-yard pass to set up another score. He led the team in receptions against Philadelphia and Dallas the following two weeks before suffering a knee injury that would knock him out for the next several weeks.

“It was very frustrating because I started off so well,” said Battle. “I had 15 catches after the first three games and then the knee injury just set me back. I never got back to full health, but everything happens for a reason and I might not understand it now but down the line, everything will fall into place and I think I’ll see why it happened.”

Battle fought through the knee injury the rest of the season, and although he played in ten games including the final two, his knee never felt 100%.

As late as OTAs this June, Battle was still experiencing swelling and was forced to sit out a few practices. Throughout training camp, coaches limited Battle’s practice routine while questions lingered as to whether or not his knee would endure the pounding of an NFL season.

Turns out Battle’s knee just needed an “oil change” and a little help from the poultry fairy in the way of hyalgan, a gel that uses hyaluronic acid, an extract from rooster combs.

“I think there were some doubts early on that I wouldn’t be able to hold up for the season, but with the help of training staff and doctors, the swelling sealed off,” said Battle. “It’s feeling good right now. These hyalgan treatments have helped tremendously. It’s like an oil change, and every day I’m feeling better and better.”

Battle hasn’t missed a practice since the start of the season and is posed for a breakout year, showing his ability early on to get extra yards with a 60-yard punt return against Arizona and a 56-yard reception where he literally drug two defenders for another 10 yards against the Rams.

“I think if you look at the some of the top receivers, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith – they all have a high YAC,” said Battle. “I think that’s what can separate you from other receivers, and I’ve been blessed with a knack for it. Even when I played quarterback, I didn’t like to go down. If you stay up, you never know what can happen. You have to have a serious determination to not be tackled.”

Battle learned his moves early on. His father played at North Texas and then as a tight end for two seasons with the St. Louis Rams. By the time Battle became interested in football, his dad was mostly on the road as a truck driver but when he came home, father and son played catch out in the yard.

When his dad wasn’t available, he tagged along to play football with the older kids in his Shreveport neighborhood. At age seven, his grandma signed him up for the Brookwood Broncos Pee Wee football team where he shined as a running back, scoring touchdowns from anywhere on the field.

“I was in the mid 20s my first year with scores, high 30s the next and in my last year of Pee Wee it was like 48 or something like that,” said Battle of his touchdown tally. “I wasn’t a ball hog, but I would score 4 or 5 a game. I just had a knack for scoring touchdowns and just had the ability at a real young age.”

When a dispute arose among the coaches, his grandmother took their leading scorer and led the charge in starting up a new team, the Country Club Bears. Before and after his games with the Bears, Battle packed in hours by the television watching college football on Saturdays. For whatever reason, he became enraptured with the Fighting Irish and decided then and there that’s where he’d go to school.

“I fell in love with Notre Dame, Tony Rice and all of those guys,” said Battle.
“They were only on in my area because they were playing Florida State and Miami, but I just loved Notre Dame and knew that’s where I wanted to go.”

Wanting doesn’t make something so but hard work does, and Battle willingly followed in the examples set by his tight knit family to make his childhood dream a reality.

In his fourth-season, Arnaz Battle has taken some hard hits, but none as bad as the two he took in the same game during his junior year of high school.

“We were playing Booker T Washington and a guy by the name of Pig got me,” said Battle. “It was a fake punt and I was rolling to the right and I had the first down but a guy tripped me and as I was stumbling forward, Pig came out of nowhere and just knocked me out. The whole stadium was leaning, I couldn’t focus. I sat out for about a quarter and I was still dizzy but I went back in the game. It was 4th and 5 and I ran the option and got the first down but as I was going down, the guy missed the tackle but his knee hit me in the back of the head and that knocked me out. I was done. I went to the hospital, got a CAT scan and everything. I remember all of it, but it was cloudy.”
”My family really instilled me with my work ethic,” said Battle. “Watching my grandmother and how she worked and my grandfather who was an owner of his business but he was still there every day, all day. He worked hard. My father was a truck driver and he’d be gone days at a time but drive all night to make it back for my games. None of us are lazy or take anything for granted. We’ve had to work for everything and I just think you have to work hard to get what you want in life. I knew what I wanted and I worked for it.”

Battle deemed Notre Dame to be part of his destiny and fate had a way of panning out with a full scholarship, but life isn’t always quite as fair. There were definitely pitfalls in the road of life for this young man.

Growing up in a low income neighborhood, Battle’s parents, his grandparents and his aunt kept close watch on Arnaz and his younger brother and sister.

“I always had a chaperone,” said Battle. “My grandfather owned a dry cleaning business. I would ride with him to work and then he would have one of his workers walk me to school and wait for me afterwards.”

Despite an attentive and diligent watch, Battle’s family couldn’t prevent tragedy from striking.

On November 11, a nine-year old Arnaz returned home from a football game and immediately joined his friends in the front yard for more football fun. His three-year brother Brandon asked to go swimming. Although it was a warm day, the water was cold and Brandon was told no.

“We always kept the door and then the gate to the pool locked, but somehow he got out to the back and got in the pool,” said Battle. “That’s where my mom found him.”

The immense loss remains with Battle still to this day, but he keeps his brother close at bay. Brandon’s face is tattooed on his upper left arm.

“It was tough and that’s why I never take anything for granted,” said Battle. “I’ve always been appreciative of my loved ones because you never know. I’m out here most of the time in California, but my mom stays on me that I need to go back home as often as I can to see my loved ones, and she’s right.”

While Arnaz didn’t get a chance to watch his baby brother grow, he takes great pride in his seventeen year old sister, a straight A student who is so sound in her judgment that she doesn’t often need much guidance from her older brother, and the love of his life – his son Jovaun.

“My mom says it’s like déjà vu because my son is just like me,” said Battle. “He has energy. He’s a smart little fella, always happy, smiles a lot. He’s definitely my proudest achievement, and he has a pretty good arm actually. He has several footballs around the house and he tries to throw with me. He’s not into catching it but he can definitely throw it.”

Like his father, Jovaun’s receiving game might not blossom until later in life.

Battle hankered down at the quarterback position all four years at C.E. Byrd high school and during his first three years at Notre Dame, before making the conversion to receiver for his senior campaign. Battle led the Irish with 48 receptions for 702 yards and five touchdowns, but becoming a full-fledged receiver has been a drawn out process since joining the 49ers as a sixth-round pick in 2003.

“I got away with playing receiver in college just off my athletic ability but once you get here, everyone is fast, everyone is strong and it takes technique to actually win the one-on-one battles so that was something I was kind of lacking and still learning when I arrived here,” said Battle.

That led to Battle’s contributions his first two seasons coming primarily on special teams, including a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown to highlight his 2004 season.

With highly touted new receivers coach Jerry Sullivan coming in with Mike Nolan in ‘05, the scene was set for Battle to make a leap in technique and enjoy a productive year as one of the team’s top receivers. Things didn’t pan out exactly as hoped, but his work and preparation throughout that tumultuous season have allowed Battle to finally see himself as a legitimate receiver.

“I’ve learned how to take care of my body, and it’s a totally different game in how to prepare your body for playing receiver versus quarterback,” said Battle. “I’ve learned to open up my stride and having that hamstring strong is important for that. My body has adjusted to this position change now. I just need to stay healthy so I can be out at practice every day getting my reps and fine-tuning my play.”

So far, so good on the practice front. So far, so good on Sundays too. Battle ranks second on the team with 8 catches for 123 yards for a 15.4 average, in addition to taking on punt return duties for the first two weeks of the season.

Of course, Battle knows better than anyone how quickly things can take a turn and how fleeting good health, and even life, can truly be which is why he’s approaching this season with somewhat of a carefree attitude.

“Adverse things can happen, in any walk of life,” said Battle. “I don’t waste time feeling sorry for myself when I’m hurt. I just do what I can to get better. I enjoy football. I love to the play the game. I don’t think I’ve had a chance to reach the level I can, so I’m just going to keep working hard and enjoy it while I can.”

Like his last name suggests, whether it’s tragedy, injuries, improving as a player, or taking on defenders, this is one player committed to the Battle.

~ by O9 Productions on September 29, 2006.

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