The ex-Wellborn coaching great makes clear that he plans on coaching five more years, maybe more, if he feels like it. In case that’s not clear enough, his desire to win is strong as ever.
That’s why he’s making himself develop and use depth this season, even if it goes against every coaching temptation to take his best and most experienced players off the field for a few plays here and there.
Even if it flies in the face of coaching temptation to trot freshmen on the field.
“You do whatever it takes to win,” Battles said. “People would expect us to do whatever it takes to be competitive -- not just win but be competitive. Do the best thing for your team and for the kids that are on it, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Those are the hard lessons learned from a 7-5 finish in 2012, Handley’s first season up to Class 4A and the Tigers’ first season after winning the 3A title in 2011.
The Tigers still had some guys from that title team. They had current Alabama freshman Bradley Bozeman anchoring the offensive line. They had Trae Kyles running the offense at quarterback.
Five players from that 2012 team signed to play college ball somewhere, and they were top players from that 2011 title team. It was a natural temptation to ride them and play “ironman football”, especially when the coaching staff wasn’t as comfortable with their depth as they are now.
Injuries hit hard. Bozeman was lost to a knee injury, forcing a reshuffling of the offensive line. There were backfield injuries.
The players left had to play offense and defense and do it in 4A, and Battles said it cost Handley in late-season losses like Dadeville (52-46) and Dora (39-22).
“Some ballgames that we lost, we lost them in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We just didn’t have enough to rest the guys out there playing a hundred plays in a ballgame.”
Handley lost a lot of top players, but the Tigers have a promising freshman class. Some freshmen will start, Battles said, and others will be developed for packages and platooning.
The idea is to keep two-way players from having to go right from defense to offense, or vice versa, with no rest, especially after a long stint on the field. That could mean freshmen reporting to the field for the first offensive series, if the usual starters just had to play a long first defensive series.
All 55 players on Handley’s roster list with offensive and defensive positions, and Battles wants players to get a few plays off between transitions.
“We’re going to platoon,” he said. “A lot of these guys are going to play.
“Last year, we had experience and no depth. This time, we’ve got depth and no experience. If we’re not going to have experience, we’re going to put them on both sides of the ball and let them go where they go. They ain’t going to get no experience sitting over there on that sideline.”
That sounds great to two-way players like senior tight end/defensive end Connor Smith and senior offensive and defensive lineman Beau Robinson.
“We were playing ironman football the whole year last year,” Smith said. “I was, especially, and then Beau came on, playing defense, too, and he had to play some offense because we had some injuries.”
Robinson said platooning more this year will make a “big difference,” and the Tigers have the freshman class to do it.
“They hit hard, and they’re fast,” he said. “They’re the real deal.”
Handley will turn to senior quarterback Cody Foster, who saw action in 2012, but he also lists at defensive back. He’ll deal mostly to senior receiver/defensive back Damien Harris, juniors Jerreion Williams (running back/linebacker) and Damian Ware (fullback/linebacker) and sophomore running back/defensive back Mikeia Trammell.
But don’t be surprised to see freshmen run on the field for a few plays, especially if older players need a breather.
“We’re going to get them all out there,” Battles said. “We’re going to teach them all football and make sure that they’re ready to play.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
Handley at a glance
Head coach: Mike Battles (201-107-1 in 28 seasons as head coach; 80-32 in nine seasons at Handley, 97-55 in 15 years at Wellborn, 19-15 in three years at Hueytown, 5-5 in one year at Pell City).
Last year’s record: 7-5, 5-2 and third in Class 4A, Region 3. Lost to Beauregard in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: A year after going 15-0 and winning the 3A title, Handley dropped to seven wins in 2012. Injuries and depth were the major problem, as the Tigers were leading big games but got gassed in the late stages. Because of that, Battles has made a point of developing depth this season. Expect to see some freshmen on the field at times, spelling veterans, and expect the Tigers to be in the mix for a region title.
Aug. 30, at Beauregard
Sept. 6, vs. Holtville
Sept. 13, at Childersburg
Sept. 20, vs. Dallas County
Sept. 27, vs. Anniston
Oct. 4, at Elmore County
Oct. 11, at Clay Central
Oct. 18, vs. Dadeville
Oct. 25, at Beulah
Nov. 1, vs. Dora