Overcoming Battle Scars

Arnaz Battle grew up with distant football dreams, like scrambling in the shadows of “Touchdown Jesus” at the University of Notre Dame and prowling the field with his favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers.

“It worked pretty good, huh?,” Battle said in front of his locker here at the Superdome, where he caught four passes for his beloved 49ers in a recent loss to New Orleans.

The Byrd High School product left Shreveport in 1998 to take perhaps the highest-profile gig in the college football world – Notre Dame’s quarterback.

His 6-foot-1 frame was battered with the Irish and several injuries plagued his career as a quarterback in South Bend, Ind. He ultimately left Notre Dame as a blossoming wide receiver and was selected by his favorite team in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

The injury bug followed him to the NFL, but four years into his pro career injuries can’t even stop him now.

Consider his performance against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 12.

N Caught six passes for 55 yards. Of his six catches, five went for first downs (four of the five on third down).

N Delivered a key block that sprung running back Frank Gore for a 61-yard touchdown run.

N Hauled in a crucial third-down pass before the two-minute warning, allowing the 49ers to employ the victory formation.

Battle’s performance earned him the game ball from San Francisco coach Mike Nolan.

Oh by the way, Battle broke his left hand during the game.

“He’s got good toughness,” Nolan said. “He’s not necessarily on the field as much as I’d like, but he’s tough. He’s physically and mentally tough, and that’s important to play the game. If you are soft mentally or physically, this is not a game you want to play much.”

Despite a break in his fifth metacarpal and the resulting surgery that placed screws in his hand, Battle did not miss a game. It took just two games for one of the screws to bend. Battle was forced back to the doctor the day after the Saints game to have it removed.

“I’ll play the last four games without it,” Battle said, “then surgery in the offseason. It’s uncomfortable, but I just have to go with it.”

Battle has already eclipsed career highs in receptions (43) and receiving yards (478) this season (both rank second on 49ers). He has also tied a career high with three touchdowns (tied for most receiving TDs on San Francisco).

“Typically a lot of (soft) guys don’t play (in the NFL) unless they are just so physically gifted and the money is too good to pass up,” Nolan said. “Otherwise, you have got to be pretty tough to do it.”

Tough doesn’t begin to describe Battle’s football journey. At Notre Dame, he suffered through a broken wrist and broken leg. The NFL was no more forgiving.

Battle played just eight games his rookie season (2003) before being placed on injured reserve with a toe injury. In 2004, Battle suffered a thigh injury late in the season (missed two games) and his 2005 campaign was hampered by a knee injury that cost him six games.

The injuries further complicated his move to wide receiver, which began with the Fighting Irish. Learning a new position – and battling those pesky injuries – is not easy at any level, especially the NFL.

“My progression has continued and I’m becoming a better player each game,” said Battle, who is in his second year as a starting receiver. “The main thing with myself is getting experience in different situations as a receiver, learning to run routes against different looks – that’s what I work on every week.”

The 49ers have a new offense to learn, too. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has implemented his system and utilized the young talent en route to an 5-8 record heading into tonight’s game against the Seattle Seahawks (7 p.m. on NFL Network).

“I’m getting into the flow of things,” said Battle, who hauled in two touchdowns in a Week 5 victory against Oakland. “We’re getting used to Norv Turner’s new offense. Working with (quarterback) Alex Smith and the receiving corps of Bryant Gilmore and Antonio Bryant — it’s been fun experiencing it all.”

The 49ers used a three-game winning streak in November to move to 5-5 and within reach of the playoff picture. A subsequent three-game slide has erased the 49ers from contention and has Battle thinking of a return to the Superdome on Jan. 3, when his Fighting Irish meets LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

“The season isn’t going as planned with wins and losses, but we’re a young team and we’re growing,” Battle said. “I made some plays, but the sky is the limit – not just for myself, but for this offense and this team. We have to continue to grow, learn from our mistakes.”

[Shreveport Times]

~ by O9 Productions on December 15, 2006.

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