Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/28/2006 03:11:00 PM
My Sportsman: Tra Battle
Georgia's Tra Battle has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, picking off six passes to lead the SEC.
By Farrell Evans
An undersized walk-on safety from a small-town Georgia high school, Tra Battle felt he had something to prove in his first intra-squad scrimmage at the University of Georgia. It was the fall of 2003 and the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Battle was closely following the movements of David Greene, the Bulldogs' star quarterback.
After Greene spotted tight end Ben Watson over the middle, Battle crashed the play. The force of the helmet-to-helmet collision catapulted him into a mid-air flip and onto his back; Watson was separated from the ball. "Man," said Watson, now a tight end with the New England Patriots. "Who are you?"
That was the last time that anybody would question Tra Battle's identity. After earning a scholarship following his freshman year as a backup safety and special-teamer, Battle has developed into a key component of Georgia's defense. He leads the SEC in interceptions with six, including three in the first half of Georgia's 37-15 upset win over Auburn earlier this month. Battle isn't Notre Dame's Rudy Ruettiger or Vince Papale of the Philadelphia Eagles. He's not some scrappy player, but a badass, a bully.
"Tra is like a bee," says Bulldogs defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. "He's small, but when he stings it hurts."
There are better safeties in college football, for sure -- guys with more "upside" for the pro game. But here is a 170-pound guy who comes up from his safety position for run support against 225-pound running backs at locomotive speed. Give me 11 guys with the heart of Tra Battle and I'll win more games than I'll lose.
Battle is a chemistry major who wants to be a physician after his football career ends. He expects to graduate next December, and hopes that his name will be called at the NFL draft in April. "I know I can play in the NFL," he says. "I've played with many of those guys already."
Alas, I have to admit that I'm biased: I've known Tra his whole life, watched him play football since Little League and shared some of his fight as a former undersized defensive back at the same high school, where some of the same coaches wondered if he was going to get killed at the Division I-A level.
He has proved the doubters wrong and shamed me for not believing that a scrawny kid from a small-town Georgia high school could play in the SEC. And in a time when many athletes -- the most notorious and heavily scrutinized in the media being African-American men -- are struggling to adjust to life as responsible student-athletes, Tra is a model citizen and football player. I hope an NFL team gives him a chance.
The son of a minister-mother, Battle is truly something the Lord made, and he's my Sportsmen of the Year.
I am certainly impressd by Tra Battle's production this year, and while I have never met him, I am also from the same small town in Georgia(Forsyth). I left Forsyth many years ago, and after graduating from UGA, I have lived in Juneau, Alaska since 1992. It's great to see a player from a smaller high school succeed at the next level. He is a role model for those players contemplating the jump to 1A sports. It's nice to see a success story in college sports amidst all the reports of drugs, violence, and academic issues. I wish Tra the best of luck regardless of what he chooses to do.
As a student at the University of Georgia, I cheer for Tra Battle every game the Bulldog's play. I have never met him personally but I know many people that have and they only have great things to say of him. He is a fantastic player and he has had a wonderful year. I hope that he is able to continue his career into the NFL, but we will certainly miss him here in Athens next year.
I am a student of the University of Georgia and a person who has followed Georgia football my entire life. I mean this comment with no disrespect towards the writer, Sports Illustrated, or Tra Battle, but this nomination for Sportsman of the Year is ludicrous. Tra Battle should not start for our football team. It is not a knock on his effort or his "heart", but he has neither the size nor the speed to be an effective rover in the Southeastern Conference. He has done far more harm than good for our football team. Despite his 6 interceptions, all of which were thrown directly to him and were a result of poor throws by the quarterback, he has constantly made coverage errors and missed countless tackles during his career. His three interception performance at Auburn this year has somehow overshadowed the fact that he "blacked out" on Auburn's game-winning drive against Georgia last year. He not only blew the coverage, but missed the tackle that allowed Auburn to win the game. He has played no where near the level recent Georgia safeties, all of which are in the NFL, played during their careers at UGA (Sean Jones, Thomas Davis, Greg Blue). In a loss this year against Vandrbilt, who we lost to for the first time in over a decade, Battle made a hit on a ballcarrier and immediately jumped up and trash talked to him. The only problem was it was a fourth down conversion for Vanderbilt on their game winning drive. Tra Battle may have great heart and may have given his all to the University of Georgia football program, but he hurt the program more than he helped it. He is not even the team's sportsman of the year; Joe Terishinski III is ten times what Tra Battle is to the Georgia football program
For you to compare Tra's performance this year to that of Greg Blue is a statement from an overlooked little brother or irate redshirt Frosh. Tra had to play in the shadow of Blue and this year was his first without him there. I say he did a great job trying to live up to Blues reputation given his size. Take your jealousy out on someone else. If you're the RS Frosh, save the anger for the field next year and make a name for yourself!
No disrespect to the dawg fan above, but it's not all Tra's fault that we lost to Vanderbilt and had a disappointing year. In fact we should thank him tremendously for show he put on in Auburn that was the catalyst to finishing so strongly. I agree that both Tra and Kelin are undersized and that has hurt Georgia against the run but they just helped Paul Oliver and Bryan Evans shut down Calvin Johnson.
He plays with tremendous emotion that he exhibited in that 4th down situation vs. Vandy. Maybe he was trying to pump the rest of the dead defense up. Georgia now and in the future needs guys with Tra's spirit (see David Pollack) to inspire the team and also to beat the you know what outta Auburn, Florida and Tech and lead Georgia to more SEC and soon National Championships.
I am a Georgia fan and I approve this nomination for Sportsman of the Year.
To the above "fan": As a UGA student and follower of the football team, I am utterly ashamed to be lumped in any group with you. While you are free to think what you like, there is no reason for putting down a nice guy out of spite because of a few losses. Sure, Battle has made mistakes on the football field, but guess what, so did everyone else. And to say he hurt the team more than helped it? That is simply ludicrous. As a player, he was the starter perhaps because (and I am guessing here)he won the job on the field. As a student and citizen, name me one instance in which he "hurt" the team. I don't recall him being suspending or embarassing the team in any way. And as a chemistry major, he is actually a true student-athlete, not just a great athlete who passes his time in leisure studies classes. So please use your own, supposedly UGA-educated, brain and get a grip and a clue.
Like Ms. Daly I have also cheered for Tra Battle many times. My grand daughter went to high school with him. She has a lot of respect for him.
As for him hurting the program more than he has helped it that is not accurate or correct. Our coaches who are some of the best in college football had at least six players to choose from this year to fill the free safety position. They choose Tra Battle. I'm sure they know more about evaluating talent and contribution than any of us who have commented on your nomination. If Tra Battle had been a detriment to the Georgia program Coach Richt would have sat him down, suspended him, or taken his scholarship, which ever was appropriate. He did none of those.
If everyone had the drive and heart of this young lion (or DAWG) there would be a lot more success in this world. Thank you for nominating Mr. Battle for Sportsman of the Year.
Disrespect intended, the "dawg fan" who just commented on how "bad" Tra is above is not a dawg fan at all. In fact, I'm willing to bet he's one of the ones booing Massaqoui a few weeks ago but cheering him now. If Battle is not an effective rover in the SEC when he leads the conference in interceptions, then I don't know who is. When mentioning the Auburn game last year, it still kills every Georgia fan. But that loss cannot be placed on Battle. Remember, the defense had 4 quarters to stop them, and they didn't. That last play didn't lose the game for us. Our defensive line and linebackers should have stopped Kenny Irons from running 180 yards on us. Remember our SEC championship year in 2002 when Michael Johnson made the catch in the endzone on 4th and 19 at Auburn. I refuse to listen to anyone that says that's the ONE play that won the game. Sean Jones had 2 crucial interceptions in the game when Auburn was driving. Also recall a few years ago when Auburn spanked us on the Plains. As much as I love Thomas Davis, he was responsible for 2 of those touchdowns given up as he was trying to come up and make the big hit on the running back. And it's just not even fair to compare any of our safeties to Sean Jones, he's just a freak. However, the interceptions Tra made in the Auburn game did not just hit him in the hands. He had to read one of the plays and then break on the ball. Another ball was batted in the air and he had to break on it and run under it. He has also countless times laid a hit on a receiver to jar the ball loose before they could make the catch. In reference to the Vanderbilt trash-talking, who cares if it was a fourth down conversion. At least he made the tackle, which is more than 10 other players did on that play. Let's excuse the fact Tra had an interception IN THE ENDZONE (yeah that's kind of a big one) in that game. In closing, I think Tra Battle for sportsman of the year is an excellent choice. He has played with tremendous heart in his career, and not just that, has produced every time he stepped on the field. From interceptions, to forced fumbles, to tackles, he has made all the Georgia faithful proud. I know we have incredible athletes, but we'll see if we miss his senior leadership and experience at the safety position next year.
To the "UGA student who has followed Georgia football their entire life", you're an idiot and a disgrace to the DawgNation. Either you're a wanna-be football player or really a Tech student because true Dawg fans don't diss their team in a national publication like SI, especially with the lame froth you spit up. You also picked a most cowardly forum for your 'ludicrous' diatribe. Your parents must be very proud!
Wow! I can't believe anyone would harbor such anger at any football player. As for the time Tra "blacked out", I believe in medical terms we call this a concussion. I'm sure Tra wanted to "black out", but this kind of thing happens in a collision sport like football. Maybe you never played football, but for those of us who have, we've all gotten our bell rung on more than one occasion. If you can't say something nice....
Congratulations you unlike others actually spelled Tra's name correctly. Tra has done us proud this year. He's played with determination and heart in a very strange football season for us this year. He never gave up. I wish him luck and he'll always be a DGD in my book!
You can't really sit there and compare Blue to Davis to Jones, that is crazy, all of these individuals did great things for the GA program but Tra Battle has also been a ROCK for that GA defense when it counted, so what he slipped and didnlt make a tackle to beat Auburn last year, I don't think he gave up all of those 31 points. But hey it's easy to look at the negative of somebody but I can say this I don't think we would have put nearly a better whoopin on AUburn this year without his key interceptions so hey you win some you lose some but by far you have picked a WINNER in Tra Battle, and if he doesn't go pro which I think there is a team for him out there he will probably be that guys boss that made that comment! Go Dawgs! Congrats Tra! TDAWG
More harm than good? Not even close. Tra Battle has been a quality football player for the University of Georgia. That said, you can count me among the contingent of UGA alums to have only missed 2 homes games since 1991, but who will also not miss seeing Tra Battle talk trash incessantly during games. While his effort on the field is unmatched and very much appreciated, I am honestly glad to see his smack talk leave the program. Hard to imagine someone who talks so much trash being considered for "Sportsman of the Year." Just my $0.02.
Tra had a great year, and I am happy for him that he performed so well. Its true that he probably is starting in front of more talented players, but you cannot argue with his production, experience, or abilty to provide leadership. I will be the first to admit that I was extremely angry with him after the Auburn game last year, when he failed to report to coaches that he was having vision trouble and "blacked out" during the most important defensive series of the season, simply because he wanted to be on the field. I wanted him out of the starting lineup. Luckily, hot headed fans like me dont make decisions, and Tra has had a good senior season, making amends for his Auburn performance last year with a tremendous game against the Tigers this year. I wish him nothing but the best.