CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Gage Batten has been in the games that the Miami Hurricanes want to play. He has a conference championship ring. He’s played for a national championship.
So when he arrived in Coral Gables, earning credibility didn’t take long. Neither did earning a starting job.
A former Auburn walk-on whose career was thought by some to be over when he shredded his right knee a year ago, Batten is now a fullback for a Miami team that opens its season Saturday against Bethune-Cookman. Batten is a South Florida native, a lifelong Hurricane fan and someone who often thought about having the chance to play for the school.
"I’m from Palm Beach Gardens, right up the road," Batten said. "I played little league games at the Orange Bowl. I used to go to the Orange Bowl all the time. So to start at the University of Miami, this is just a true blessing. It’s a dream come true."
Batten left Auburn for personal and family reasons and returned home, where he started what seemed like life after football this past spring. He started coaching at Dwyer High, his alma mater and a school that has sent plenty of talent to big-time college programs in recent years. The Hurricanes caught up with him there on a recruiting visit, and from there the chance to become a walk-on at Miami was born.
"Just a great story," Miami coach Al Golden said. "Very fortunate to have him here. He really gives us tremendous fabric in our locker room, just great DNA."
Batten is penciled in as a starter on many Miami special-teams units as well. He will also be eligible in 2016, and plans to remain a Hurricane.
"He gives us a sense of calmness and poise in the locker room," Golden said. "He has a perspective that not many have."
Batten has seen plenty in his college career. He went to Auburn as a linebacker, was converted to H-back as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and played sparingly for the Tigers in that Southeastern Conference championship season — but did get on the field in their national-title game loss to Florida State. Then came the knee injury last fall, and after that came reasons to head home.
He has his degree, so did not have to sit out another year upon arriving at Miami like most transfers would under NCAA rules.
"He’s really smart, he’s kind of talked to me a couple times about some of the stuff that he likes in this offense, he’s been a great guy," Miami backup quarterback Malik Rosier said. "He’s so smart at football. There’s been questions that even quarterbacks have had and Gage can answer them."
So in a sense, Batten is still doing what he was doing when he was an assistant at the high school level a few months ago — mentoring younger players.
"I don’t feel like I’m coaching," Batten said. "I feel like I’m being a great teammate and that’s what it takes to win."