BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU safety John Battle is in an interesting position.
Heading into his fourth season with the LSU football team, Battle expected 2017 to be his final in purple and gold. But a few weeks ago, the NCAA approved a fifth season of eligibility for Battle, reclassifying him as a junior.
Since the 2016 season ended on New Year’s Eve, Battle’s mindset had been to max out for 2017 and bolster his draft status to reach the NFL in 2018. But now those plans have changed.
“Everything came back good and I’m excited about that, getting a fifth year,” Battle said. “I’m just taking it easy this year and seeing what happens at the end of the year. Hopefully I can get to the NFL. If not, I’m back for another year.”
Applying for a fifth year was a surprisingly easy process for Battle. Battle only played in one game as a freshman in 2014 before going down with an injury. Since Battle’s one game came in the first half of the season and he played in fewer than one-third of LSU’s games, the NCAA granted him an extra season on the grounds of medical hardship.
LSU director of athletic training Jack Marucci handled the whole process for Battle, filling out the requisite paperwork. Battle said without Marucci, he almost certainly wouldn’t have been granted the fifth season.
Now that he has options on how to end his career, Battle said he feels as if he’s freer to focus on the moment and get better as a player.
“It’s a good thing to have,” Battle said. “There’s no stress for it. I’m not thinking too far in the future. I’m just trying to live in the now right now.”
LSU is still DBU, depth wise
LSU lost an entire secondary worth of talent from its 2016 squad, losing safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre’Davious White to the first round of the NFL draft, as well as safety Rickey Jefferson and nickelback Dwayne Thomas to graduation.
But between Battle, fellow safety Ed Paris and cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver, LSU has more than enough talent to reload in the defensive backfield. Which is just how Battle said LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond planned it.
“Coach Raymond loves to say ‘We don’t lose a step. We just replace people,'” Battle said. “That’s our motto here at DBU. Next guy up. Next people up. So we’re locked and loaded and ready to go.”
One way LSU stays so replenished in the defensive backfield is by training the next generation while the previous regime is still intact. That’s how Toliver and Paris have high expectations upon them despite never being consistent starters as underclassmen.
And it’s also why freshmen Todd Harris and Grant Delpit have been the talk of LSU’s recruiting class and fall camp. In a handful of his preseason press appearances, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said Delpit has the potential to play early and play often, and Harris has earned rave reviews of his own throughout the summer, especially when it comes to his athleticism.
To Battle, these guys are progressing so quick that it’s making him rethink his own freshman season.
“They’re very athletic,” Battle said of Delpit and Harris. “They’re very smart too, both of those guys. Very versatile. You can put them in the box, you can put them at free safety. Being able to move around. They’re getting adjusted to the game real fast, better than I did when I was a freshman. I’m just happy to see those guys excelling. I’m excited to see what they’ll do.”
What about JaCoby Stevens?
Delpit and Harris are now a duo, but as recently as a week ago, they were part of a talented trio with 5-star JaCoby Stevens. That all changed when Orgeron announced Monday that Stevens will be moving to wide receiver to alleviate LSU’s depth concerns on offense.
Joking about the situation, Battle said the trash talk between him and Stevens already has begun.
“I always mess with him saying, ‘You’re on the other side of the ball now. You’re the enemy,'” Battle said. “It’s all fun and love. He’s still my guy.”
Now that Stevens plays offense, LSU quarterback Danny Etling had some things to say about his newest weapon as well.
“He’s been running with us and seeing how he does,” Etling said. “He’s a little bit on the defensive side still, he’s got some defensive mindsets still. But that’s good. Sometimes you need that. Just the improvement that he made from the beginning of practice yesterday to the end of practice was good. You can really see it on film. He’s a quick learner, real athletic. And I think he can really contribute for us.”