Battle tested: Clemson right tackle culminates adverse journey with another bowl challenge
CLEMSON - Isaiah Battle had to learn the hard way.
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Offensive tackle is not a position for the casually interested. No plays can be taken off, consistency is not tolerated, because 12 great blocks can be melted away with one whiff.
2014 Discover Orange Bowl
Who: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
When: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Records: Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC); Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Last year's result: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 10
Which is why despite offensive coordinator Chad Morris practically begging the sophomore Battle, a behemoth 6-7, 275-pounder from Brooklyn with hulking hands and feet, to seize the left tackle job last summer, Battle barely sniffed the starting lineup during fall camp. He became senior Brandon Thomas' backup, limited to second-team reps.
"It was my attitude, and my preparation coming to practice every day. I wasn't consistent," Battle said this week after a bowl practice, his first interview in three months.
"So when they see the consistency and my attitude change from the incident at N.C. State, it was going uphill from there. I learned to control myself, be determined, come out with a hard edge every day."
After not appearing in the Georgia opener, Battle got plenty of work in the South Carolina State game with the other backups. Then with 93 seconds left in garbage time of the ACC opener at North Carolina State, Wolfpack safety Jarvis Byrd started woofing at Battle and got under the youngster's skin.
Battle took a step toward Byrd, and floored the senior with a right hand to the face mask. Battle was immediately ejected (and received two lectures from head coach Dabo Swinney), followed by a one-game suspension against Wake Forest for punching an opposing player.
"That was one of the pettiest things I ever did," Battle said. "That was not the Clemson way. I let the game get the best of me. But it will never happen again."
And yes, there were coach-imposed consequences that whole next week.
"They ran me the whole practice, extra lifting. It was tough," Battle said. "I knew I had to be disciplined, to come and do my punishment. I took it as extra work to get better."
Battle received playing time only sparingly through October, meaning he could only make a statement during the week in practice. All the while, Thomas was excelling at left tackle, but junior Gifford Timothy was struggling at right tackle and freshman Shaq Anthony wasn't much better.
Then Timothy pulled the plug on his college career due to knee problems, and the coaches gave Battle a chance at right tackle.
"That guy looks like he's starting to figure it out," Swinney said the night of Oct. 31. "It looks like he's getting ready."
Battle played 37 snaps in a 59-10 win at Virginia, and started each of the final three games of the season. After a reasonably solid performance, he's expected to handle right tackle again on Jan. 3 against Ohio State.
"The light had been on, but I just wasn't all the way there," Battle said. "Sometimes I would show up and go through the motions at practice. You learn you have to come every day, because anything can happen to you. Don't take it for granted.
"So I worked hard every day. Even though sometimes I feel down, I still play my best. I try with all the energy I have."
Battle said he's had an "excellent" few weeks, getting ready for the Buckeyes. Just under a year ago, he was thrust into action when Timothy was injured early in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and Battle stepped in and handled LSU's NFL-ready ends well.
"Just got in the game, played hard, and focused on my assignment," Battle said. "Of course, I was ready the whole time. I'm a competitor, I like to compete. So when they called my name, I was ready."
Next year, Thomas will leave a void at left tackle - a void that for the first time in a long time, it appears Battle is ready to fill.
"Yes sir, I'm ready to lead the team as much as I can," Battle said. "If they put me back to left, I'm going to work with left, or if they put me at right, anything to help the team, I'm going to be ready."