NORTH EASTHAM, Mass. -- You wouldn't be quick to confuse Nauset Regional High with the term "powerhouse" any time soon. But the Warriors, off to a 4-3 start, boast arguably one of New England's most unheralded prospects in fullback/linebacker Brendan Battles.
A series of leg injuries kept the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Eastham native from getting noticed too much on the gridiron. But luckily, he had his decorated wrestling career to fall back on. He picked up the sport as a freshman, and last winter won Division 1 and All-State in the 215-pound divsion, and fell in the New England finals to Virginia-bound Patrick Gillen of Shelton, Conn.
We've heard about the overlap between wrestling and football before (Stephen Neal anyone?), and that paid off when he arrived at football camps at Boston College, UConn and South Florida. Without seeing film, both the Huskies and Bulls offered scholarships, and Battles committed to UConn last June, joining Grafton's Obi Melifonwu and Tabor Academy's Jason Sylva (whom he almost teamed with this fall) on the list of in-state commitments.
We caught up with Battles before practice Tuesday afternoon at Nauset, and as you'll see, he had a lot to say.
Q: I asked this to Mike DeVito a year ago. Do you guys hate the tourists?
A: "Being with the workforce and working my entire life, I appreciate it to a degree with the tourists – but I can’t wait ‘til they leave (laughs)."
Q: What do you mean by workforce?
A: "I’m a landscaper, and I also did shucking oysters and clams over at a raw bar in P-Town (Provincetown). You make good money while they’re here. It’s fun, I guess you could say, but it’s also crazy. I mean, traffic-wise, just the amount of people goes from, like…you’re here in the winter time, and there’s maybe a car or two on the road, and then if you come here in the summertime, Jesus, the road’s packed."
Q: How long have you been doing that kind of work, and how much does that go into building your strength?
A: "My father owns his company, so I’ve been landscaping probably since I was like between 6 and 8. I’ve been doing that throughout my whole life. Shucking oysters was actually this one summer type thing. I had to find a different job because we had morning workouts here (at the school) at 6 in the morning, whereas before I was used to doing workouts on my own with my dad at 5:30 and then being at work at 7:30. But we didn’t get out of here until 8:30, so I had to find a different job, one of my friends’ dad’s up in P-Town was a seafood restaurant, so I just learned how to shuck."
Q: Sometimes you hear about, say, folks in places Gloucester training on the beach in the summer time. How much do you guys use the natural resources in your training?
A: "For football, we just use the field most of the time. I know I’ve gone down to the beach and used the sand for different types of workouts between my wrestling and whatnot. But we never really did it for football. I don’t know if it was just more convenient to go out here (to the school) because we had all the stuff we needed.":
Q: What would you use the sand for in your wrestling training?
A: "Sprints, lotta sprints, building up the ankles. We did a little bit of footwork. And then, of course, at some beaches you’ve got – for instance, down here [the high school is a mile from the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Nauset Light], or this beach where I used to live, you’d have an incline up until the stairway, and then you’d have a stairway that’s a good 25 yards, so you could sprint the whole thing."
Q: That must get tiring.
A: Hell yeah, Hell yeah. It sucks (laughs).
Q: When you committed to UConn, I think the question some people had was ‘Who is this kid?’ How did it end up coming about?
A: "Funny story, actually. Long story short, I’ve played football my entire life, but the past four years I’ve had some type of injury. Sophomore year, I broke my left fibula. Junior year, I broke my right fibula. The year before that [sophomore year], I had a hematoma on my arm. Et cetera, et cetera. So that was my high school football experience, to really put it in a sum. So I didn’t really get my name out there in the football aspect, loved the game though.
"I really made my name in wrestling. I started freshman year. Most kids who are in nationals start in wrestling when they’re six or eight years old, and in the state they’ll probably start around sixth grade. So I was behind, but even then my freshman year I still went 23-7. My sophomore year, I ended up taking state finalist [in the 215-pound division], fifth in All-State, fifth in New England, and then that summer I won nationals for the first time. Last year, I won state, won All-State, took second in New England, took third in the country.
"I got a lot of offers. But I knew going into wrestling, the more I grew into my friends I trained with, who were in college. That’s how I got so good, wrestling with college wrestlers. And every time I talked to them they’d be like ‘Dude, this isn’t the sport for you, you’re an amazing athlete and you need to focus on football, because you could end up having your whole college education paid for.’ And also, the door’s there, go to it. That stuck in the back of mind, and you get to a certain point in wrestling where after two seasons of cutting 25 pounds a week, it gets to you, it really does. I’d be about 240, 245 and I’d have to cut to 215 once or twice a week. I mean, if I did it twice a week, it’d be Wednesday and Saturday, I’d be back to 240 by the end of the night that I weighed in. That sucks, like Hell – you’re talking to a big boy, I like to eat, I’ll eat all day. Telling me I can only eat one meal a day to get to a certain weight? (laughs)
"There was talk of me going to a prep school, I was supposed to go to Tabor (Academy, in Marion). Then there was talk of me possibly, if I got an offer – I went to BC camp, UConn camp and USF (South Florida) camp – if I got an offer, I would stay here, no prep school. But if I didn’t, I’d go to prep school, because I was really looking more into the football side of things.
"I went to BC, got a little discouraged because I thought they were going to offer. I talked to the coaches there, and they said, ‘We’ve got nothing for you’. At the same time, I was also playing middle linebacker and fullback, which I’m more of a tight end/defensive end type of guy, as UConn and USF said. That sat in my system for a while, and I think it gave me more motivation. I’m a very negative-driven person, I guess you could say, so that pissed me off for the next two weeks of training. Then I went to UConn, and I want to say the first day [defensive coordinator] Don Brown noticed me. From then on, it was like ‘Oh, we want to try you over here’, or ‘We want to try you over there’. I started off with the middle linebackers, then fullbacks, then next thing you know they’re like ‘Screw it, let’s try you at end’."
Q: Don tends to do that.
A: "Yeah (laughs). He put me over at end, and of course I’m like, hey, if he wants to see me , I don’t care, I’ll go wherever you want me to go. If you want me at wideout or kicker, I’ll try that as well. I mean, man, I’m just that type of kid, I want to get looked at, you know? Who doesn’t? So, he put me with [defensive line coach Hank] Hughes, I think I did the same drill over and over and over. Literally, there was five drills, but I had to stay with him, and he stayed at that one drill. So I only did the one drill for the day, then pretty much at the end of camp coach P [head coach Paul Pasqualoni], I got off-campus and he gave me the offer and I committed. It was a no-brainer for me. Good program, beautiful facilities, good school."
Q: But Nauset isn’t exactly a traditional power. How did you get exposed?
A: "(Pauses) I don’t know how to answer that one (laughs). I think it was just going to the camps, really. I got my name out in the wrestling, like I said. Because I went down to USF, Skip Holtz, I mean that’s all he was looking at me for. None of these guys looked at my tape – UConn, they never asked me for tape before I committed, they were just like ‘Aw, he’s a great wrestler and a great athlete’ when they looked at the drills I did, and that’s what they took me off of. They didn’t ask for tape. I think that’s what got my name out and more exposed, me selling myself on my wrestling and my athletic ability by going to these camps. Other than that, I have no idea. Guess I just got lucky (laughs)."
Q: You hear every now and then about the overlap between wrestling and being a lineman. How much did wrestling help you with your technique as a defensive lineman?
A: "It helped a lot. You wouldn’t notice it, but when I wrestle and play football in the same season…the beginning of the season, I stopped, it must have been for the first week or second week, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to focus on football’. And then you notice you’re out of breath faster, you don’t open your hips up as much as you could on some moves, your hands aren’t as aggressive as they should be. So, wrestling to me, I play a lot of sports and it’s the hardest one I play. Endurance-wise, when I’m wrestling, a two-hour practice at least once a week, the football game is a joke to me. It’s all about hands, wrestling is all about your hand control, the way you open your hips up, so if I’m trying to pass an elbow by you have to open up your hips – same with football, if someone’s trying to reach block me, you can open your hips up and do the same thing as wrestling. You can apply a lot of wrestling moves, and the aggression I guess you could say, the same way you would apply defensive line."
Q: You mentioned at the beginning about injuries. Are you OK this season?
A: "Yeah, nothing big, just minor problems, but for the most part pretty healthy."
Q: You guys had a couple lean years earlier this century (from 2005 to 2009, the Warriors went 4-46), and you’re off to a pretty nice start this season (4-3, 1-1 ACL). What’s been the key?
A: "A lot of things. One, coach [Keith] Kenyon, one of the best coaches, he’s like a God-given gift to us. We had coaches before who’d say you should lift, or you should do this, but it wasn’t really, you know, ‘You have to do this or else’. It was a should of. You’re talking about a bunch of kids on Cape Cod in the summertime. I mean, let’s face it, there’s much more to do than ‘shoulda lifting’, you know? (laughs) For me, I’ve been lifting since I was 11 years old with my father – my father is a marine – I’d lift with him every morning at 4:30. To me, I was like, if my team doesn’t want to lift, I’m here but if they don’t want to lift then whatever. But when coach Kenyon came here, we had lifts at 6, we’d do an hour of lift and an hour of conditioning. That helped out huge.
"Then it’s also what we run as well. We used to run a spread, but we never really had a quarterback for it. It’s kinda like your backyard quarterback who can throw, but doesn’t know when to throw it, one of those type deals. Blocking was a big part, there was a lot of parts we didn’t have. But then when he brought in the Single Wing, I thought it was the best thing in high school football. I was like, ‘This is sick’, I’m not even getting the ball and this is fun, you know? And as we lift, the linemen get stronger, whether it’s Eric Marston at 150 pounds at center, or Ben Ering and Jordan Fowler who are 300 pounds. So I mean, everyone’s getting stronger, our running backs are great. As much as we depend on the blocking, the running backs can make do if something does break down. So I think basically what it comes down to is the coaching and all the players putting in the work. Those 6 o’clock workouts pay off.
Q: I understand the weight room is pretty remarkable here.
A: "I love the place, it’s really nice. If you’re in a gym class here, you’re more apt to watch TV on the plasma screens, ESPN, it’s nice. It’s funny, I’d go to my gym with my dad, I pay 30 bucks a month for that. You come here, it’s free and they got three plasmas bigger than any TV you’ve got paying 30 bucks a month over there. Like, you gotta be kidding me, I’m coming over here! (laughs) I might watch Sunday Night Football on the plasma at the school, come on now (laughs). As much as we trash it by the end of the lift, we definitely take care of it. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like having a nice car, you want to go back in it. We’re definitely blessed to have that, that’s for sure."
Q: You seem like you’re in pretty good shape. How intense do you go in workouts? What’s a typical workout?
A: "It changes, it all depends on what season it is…I’m actually kinda out of shape right now. I had to take a week off for high blood pressure, that was basically related to all my stress that’s going on. I’m currently not staying at home, I’ve been out of the house for like three months now. I’ve been staying with one of my friends. So basically, stress-related. Soon as I learned how to calm down by myself…it’s funny, I went from 110 to 130 to 160 to 190, then I was like, alright, I need to calm down. I shut everything off, my phone, my computer, just played ball and came home to do studies, next day I was 110. It was nothing big, but I had to take the week off. But the week off – whew, I ate the wrong things (laughs).
"[As for most intense workout], it’d have to be my functional workouts. Those things suck, oh my God. Functional workout would basically be, you’ve got your tire, then you have a sled that you pull, sledgehammer that you use against the tire, ladders, you’d always have a hill. And then, either you get the choice of pushing the lawnmower on a nice day – and this is a commercial mower, so that’s about 1500 [pounds] – or I’d push my mom’s SUV. Those days definitely sucked. And it was always a Sunday, because that’s the only day I got to really use everything, because it’s ‘Family Day’, which is really like ‘Hell Day’ because everyone’s at the house.
"It’s just one of those days you wake up and you’re like [expletive], today’s Sunday. My dad’s got all the tools ready, because you’ve got to take the hydraulics off the mower and whatnot. It’s fun. It sucked though, it definitely sucked."
Q: You seem like the type of guy who gets amped before games. Am I guessing right?
A: "Oh yeah."
Q: Take me through your pregame routine.
A: "It’s changed a little bit, but not too much. I stay really calm for the most part. People sometimes go nuts and want to be intensely focused, going through their packets and whatnot. Me, you know, I’ll read my packet on, say, Thursday. Friday, I won’t think anything about it. Nothing about the game, I stay calm, put my mind in other places, don’t want to stress out about it. And then come probably after lunch, that’s when I start almost visualizing, you might say. I’ve always been big on visualizing, I completely believe in it. We do our run through, I try to stay calm, 50 percent, just run through it. Nothing hard. I’m always the last person to put my equipment on, I don’t know why. It’s just something that’s been in high school. I just sit there, I’m relaxed and then it’s like, oh, people are lining up? I’ve got to put my stuff on (laughs). Between the adrenaline getting my stuff on and not wanting to be the last in line, by the time we’re lined up I’m ready to go off.
"It’s just one of those things where you flip the switch, really. As soon as I put the helmet on and walk up the stairs, or if it’s an away game, soon as we get out on in line to take the field, I’m just amped. I go nuts. I’m just waiting for someone to say something so I can go off."
Q: So what’s that first hit of the game like for you? Some people say they get butterflies, and then that first hit unwinds them.
A: Yeah, I definitely get nervous, it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. I’m just like, you get that nervous feeling, your heart is almost in your throat. It’s a little anxious, but soon as that first hit happens, doesn’t matter if you lay them on their ass, or they lay you on your ass, you’re like ‘Let’s just do this now’. It’s fun after that, but that first hit is always very key. I’m too anxious, oh man.
Q: Some have wondered if the Atlantic Coast League could come down to the Thanksgiving matchup with Dennis-Yarmouth. What do you guys need to take care of the rest of the way?
A: "We just need to take it one game at a time. I think we get too ahead of ourselves as any team would, as soon as you have a little bit of success. Take it one game at a time, and keep improving. Do what you can to make yourself better, your team better. Focus on the game, win the next game, then it’s on to the next one.
"Then when the Thanksgiving game comes…I mean, may the best man win. I think they’re very good, obviously. Not much for trash-talking, but I’m ready to hit someone (laughs). There’s something about D-Y, I don’t know if it’s losing to them the last three years, or haven’t been able to get revenge because any other school in the ACL has a wrestling team, I don’t have that with D-Y. They had me on that big kid (6-foot-4, 300-pound tackle Nate Crary) the last two years, and I hate that he’s gone (Crary graduated) because I’d love to see him again this year. I’m excited for the game. It’s hard, like I said, to stay focused on the game, and very hard when the season’s halfway done and you’ve got D-Y done. And it’s at their house, so you know it’s gonna be packed."