COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Another Battle lands on Mars Hill
Sat, 03/31/2018 - 10:52pm
Former CHS cornerback following in father's footsteps
It’s been 28 years since JJ Battle stepped foot inside Meares Stadium at Mars Hill University.
That’s about to change this fall.
JJ’s son Alfonso, a member of Columbia’s state semifinal team in 2015, recently committed to play football for the Mountain Lions, following in his father’s footsteps after he played there nearly three decades ago. Alfonso spent the past two seasons at Minnesota State Community & Tech, honing his skills as a cornerback to make the leap from a JUCO to a Division II university by the time he was a junior.
It just so happens, he’ll be donning the same blue and gold colors his father wore in 1991 before JJ transferred to UNLV for his final three seasons. To make this story even cooler, Alfonso will be coached by defensive coordinator Kevin Barnette, the same coach who mentored his father all those years ago.
“It was important,” Alfonso said of playing at the same school as his dad, “but at the same time I wanted to do what was right for me. I didn’t want it to seem like I was doing it just for him but it just so happened to plan out that I picked that school and the same school that he went to. I think it’s kind of cool because (Barnette) coached him as well.”
For JJ, it’ll be an opportunity to return to his old stomping grounds while also being able to watch his oldest son play college football. JJ was unable to make any of Alfonso’s games at Minnesota State Community & Tech due to the fact he coached his younger son Bryce’s pop warner team on the weekends in Tampa.
That won’t be the case this season, as JJ plans to give up coaching to make multiple trips to Mars Hill.
“It’s exciting. Out of all the schools that recruited him, Mars Hill has always been my first choice and favorite for him, mainly because of Coach Barnette,” JJ said. “We’ve been friends for years now. He’s a man that’s a real Christian guy, he’s a tough coach, he’s a disciplinary coach, he’s big on making sure players graduate college and he’s just somebody that’s a good role model all the way around.”
It’s been an atypical journey to Mars Hill for Alfonso. In fact, his football journey has been anything but normal going all the way back to high school.
Alfonso spent his freshman year at Columbia before transferring to Zephyrhills Christian Academy in Pasco County for his sophomore and junior seasons. He then came back to Columbia his senior year, helping lead to Tigers to district and regional titles on their way to a Class 7A state semifinal berth.
Colleges began taking notice of Alfonso’s final year as he tied for a team-high five interceptions. Mars Hill was one of those schools, as was Northern Iowa, but issues with transcripts from transferring between two high schools prevented Alfonso from going to a four-year university.
But through it all, Barnette and Mars Hill stayed in contact with Alfonso. He never forgot that.
“There were other schools on me but Mars Hill was the first school that was with me through everything,” he said. “They never went away and the coach always made sure that I was good. He made sure to ask how I was doing after my games and he stayed with me through the whole process.”
JJ is part of an organization based in Tampa called Unsigned Preps, which is designed to assist high school student athletes obtain admission into college. Ricky Sailor runs the show, which includes 7-on-7 tournaments, while JJ helps coach in the middle school league.
The summer before he transferred back to Columbia, Alfonso was part of Unsigned Preps 7-on-7 high school team. He competed in national tournaments across the country and played against elite competition, which included Clemson’s Devan Barrett, Auburn’s Nate Craig-Myers and Florida State’s Tre’ McKitty, to name a few.
That forced Alfonso to become a better cornerback, which he did with the help of Kenneth Watson and Sailor as his coaches. He also gained 15 pounds of muscle that summer, setting the beginning stages of his trek to Mars Hill.
“He’s always been an exceptional athlete. But as a defensive back, his skills have tremendously improved. He really grew that summer at a competitive level,” JJ said. “He always had the skill set but being in the Unsigned Preps 7-on-7 competition, it gave him an opportunity to compete and you just get beat or you get better. And he competed and competed and I think his confidence got better doing that.”
“He was amazing going back to Columbia. His confidence was just much higher. He was bigger, faster, stronger and just more confident.”
From Columbia to Minnesota, Alfonso now takes that confidence to Mars Hill, a place that’s already special to the Battle family. While JJ only played there for one year, Alfonso looks to leave his own mark in his two seasons with the Mountain Lions.
He says he learned a lot about himself in his two years in the North Star State, from being on his own and growing as a person to becoming a better football player overall.
Now he hopes to go into Mars Hill and earn a starting job.
“They told me that I’m going to have to compete of course to play but they said they could really use me and they’ve been looking for somebody like me to come out there and play,” Alfonso said. “(Barnette) said he could land me and now he’s got me and he’s ready to work with me.”
Alfonso is certainly in good hands. No one knows that better than his father.
“I always tell the kids I work with and Alfonso to go somewhere that you’re going to have a good chance of graduating with a good environment,” JJ said. “With him being a DB, Coach Barnette is an awesome defensive coordinator and a great defensive backs coach so I know that he’s going to get even better playing for him. But more so, as a young man he’s going to grow and elevate to be a good person in life. I’m glad he chose Mars Hill and I was happy Mars Hill and Coach Barnette offered him.”