Thanks mainly to a sturdy ‘Roc’ at the controls, Battleground Academy is off to its best start in football in three years.
Charismatic, energetic and personable coach Rahim (Roc) Batten has guided BGA to a rousing 4-0 start, the school’s best since 2008 when it won its first seven.
The latest win was an impressive 17-6 road triumph at tough Pearl-Cohn last Friday.
Granted, Batten inherited a stable full of offensive stars headed by standout quarterback C.J. Beathard to lead an arsenal of weapons. The cupboard was hardly bare.
Equally impressive the first month is the BGA defense, which has allowed only 16 points and just one touchdown in the past three games. The only points the Wildcats gave up Friday were two field goals (by Ryan Deising) to a team that had scored 63 points in its first three contests.
“It all starts with our senior leadership,” Batten, a three-year letterman at Vanderbilt (1995-97), said. “Those guys and the underclassmen have all bought into what we are trying to do.
“Our coaching staff is phenomenal. We have four former head coaches on our staff, and with that kind of knowledge on board, it makes my job easier.”
BGA chose Batten as its coach in early June over a huge pool of top-notch candidates.
The Wildcats allowed the Firebirds just nine first downs, barely more than 200 yards total offense and made a goal line stand. That came after the Firebirds started the second half with a long drive, which took 7:12 off the clock and reached the BGA 16 before a fourth-down pass was knocked down in the end zone.
“Our defense was outstanding,” said Batten, 35, who is from Detroit and said he got his nickname from his grandfather. “Pearl-Cohn is a very good team, and holding a team like that to six points is amazing.”
Coaching in his blood
It is no surprise that Batten would become a coach.
His father was a high school track and cross country coach, and his mother also coached track. His brother was a middle school football coach. His sister also coached track.
“It’s definitely in my blood,” he said. “After I suffered a neck injury at Vanderbilt my senior year, that became pretty much my main option.”
Batten played quarterback in high school but was moved to defensive back when he came to Vanderbilt. There, he played for three coaches — Gerry Dinardo in his final year, then Rod Dowhower, then Woody Woodenhofer.
Those teams were noted for their defense.
Not surprisingly, the Wildcats are strong defensively. Batten spent the last seven years as defensive coordinator at Ensworth under Ricky Bowers, where he was part of a state championship team last fall.
Thomson shines on offense, defense
Beathard, an Ole Miss commitment, shifty running back Keenan Bass and standout receivers like split end Jordan Smith and tight end Blake Thomson lead a talented group of skill players on offense.
After the Firebirds had pulled to within one, 7-6, Smith returned the kickoff 50 yards and set up Connor Mitchell’s 21-yard field goal with six seconds left in the first half. Jordan also scored on a 15-yard pass from Beathard on the final play of the third quarter.
Thomson stood out both on both sides of the ball. He caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Beathard and finished with four catches for 48 yards. On defense, he was in on 10 tackles from his linebacker position.
“On the touchdown, the linebacker blitzed, I read my key and C.J. hit me perfectly,” the versatile Thomson, a three-year standout who is considering a pair of Ivy League opportunities, said. “We all adapted to Coach Batten and all the coaches very smoothly. Everyone bought in right away to what the coaches are trying to get across, and we’ve gotten off to a great start.”
Beathard threw for two more touchdowns Friday, which gave him seven for the season to go with 568 passing yards.
“Over the summer, we all bonded together,” the 6-foot-3, 175-pound passing whiz, said. “Coach Batten and the whole staff have been great. Going in, I already had some outstanding receivers, and we’ve taken it to another level.”
Next up: rival Montgomery Bell Academy. That certainly will cause some emotions to rise high Friday, especially that Batten’s predecessor, Marty Euverard, left the school to become coach of the Big Red.
“Regardless of their record (1-3), it’s MBA,” Batten said. “MBA has talent, and they have a long and storied history there. I’m sure it will make for an exciting week of practice.”
The matchup wil feature two of the Nashville area’s top passing quarterbacks — Beathard and MBA’s Dylan Hall, who also has thrown for more than 500 yards.
With a 23-16 loss to Baylor Friday, MBA is off to its worst start since 1978.
• Father Ryan's secondary picked off four more passes Friday, keying its tight 10-3 win over Hillwood. The Irish (3-1) have 12 interceptions through four games, by far the best in Nashville. Tailback Rafael Hopkins rushed for 177 yards and the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
• Former Goodpasture softball star Kelsey Cartwright, who signed and played at Auburn the past two years, has transferred to Lipscomb University. Cartwright, who plays second base, hit a school record 44 home runs at Goodpasture. She batted .303 for Auburn and scored 36 runs, second best on the team, last spring.
• Donelson Christian Academy quarterback Kyle Kennedy threw for one touchdown and caught a halfback pass from Lance Hamilton for another score in the Wildcats’ 49-0 DII romp over Ezell-Harding. The Wildcats host Knox Webb in a battle for first place Friday.
• After losing two of their first three, it appears Brentwood’s Bruins are back on track with their 48-0 win at hapless Hunters Lane (0-4). BHS (2-2) racked up almost 400 yards on offense.
Antioch at McGavock
Battleground Academy at Montgomery Bell Academy
Brentwood Academy at Pope John Paul II
Cane Ridge at Overton
David Lipscomb at Maplewood
East Lit at Pearl-Cohn
Ensworth at Baylor
Father Ryan at McCallie
FRA at Knoxville Grace
Franklin at Hillsboro
Hunters Lane at Hillwood
Independence at Centennial
Knox Webb at Donelson Christian Academy
Nashville Christian School at McEwen
Ravenwood at Brentwood
Stratford at Christ Presbyterian Academy
Westmoreland at Goodpasture
Whites Creek at Glencliff
Zion Christian at Ezell-Harding