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Mike Battles

A Century of THS Football
Part XIII - Battles

By Michael Butler

Mike Battles enters his ninth season as head coach at Tallassee in 2020 making him second only to J. E. "Hot" O'Brien in the longest coaching tenures at THS. O'Brien coached the purple and gold for 19 years.

The past decade, of which Battles has coached eight of the ten, ranks second in number of wins behind only O'Brien and his incredible run in the 1940s.

Tallassee was 75-10-6 under O'Brien from 1940-49. The Tigers have a record of 73-39 from 2010-19 under Battles, Rodney Dollar and Jared Jones.

Jones, who coached in 2000 and 2001 and returned in an interim role in 2011 prior to Battles arrival, thinks the recent success is connected to continuity.

"He's a great coach," Jones said. "It's been a great hire. The hire was so big because he's (still) here and staying. Just having that is big."

Battles' first THS team in 2012

What has kept Battles around?

"The biggest thing is this is a wonderful place," Battles said. "The kids are great. You hear people say 'good fit.' It just worked out that my personality and the way we like to do things fits here. We love this town. The kids like it."

Battles is the son of a coach.

"I grew up in a fieldhouse. I was cutting the football field when I was five. I've never known anything different."

Former Tallassee coach Frank Autery remembers five-year-old "Little Mike" hanging around Mike Sr.

Battles after accepting the THS job in 2012

"I knew him when he was a small child," Autery said. "I coached in Georgia and his dad coached in Georgia. His dad won a state championship at Irwin County. Each Saturday morning we'd take our films to the same processing place. (He'd) be out there in his daddy's car asleep."

When Battles took the Tallassee job, his first residence was in a house owned by Autery.

"I introduced myself, 'I'm Mike Battles Jr.' He said, 'I'm Frank Autery. I know you. It's been a few years.' It's a small world."

Battles and his wife Tara have two sons, Thomas and Mason. Thomas will be a senior this season.

"That was important for me with Thomas that he gets to finish up with his friends."

The senior Battles coached at Walter Wellborn during his son's high school years. He won 90 games in 13 years in Anniston.

"It was some of the best times. You really don't appreciate your playing days until they're gone. We had great teams. If there was a four-year period in my life where I could go back and do it again, that's the only one."

During those four seasons from 1986-89, the Panthers went 32-11. In Battles' junior and senior seasons, they won 21 games falling to the eventual state champion Oxford both years.

"We lost to them twice both years - in the regular season and quarterfinals."

Oxford won 14-13 in 1988 and 14-0 in '89. The '88 game came down to a 50-yard field goal try by Battles.

"We're down to three seconds left. It's on the 33-yard line. Dad grabs me and says let's go try it. Perfect snap. I hit the ball dead center. It fell right under the crossbar. I hit it the next day."

Battles was named the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 5A Player of the Year as a senior. He was Super 12 pick by the ASWA and played in the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star Game. The Birmingham News named him all-state as a linebacker. The ASWA put him on the first team as a placekicker.

"I'm probably one of the few players that played linebacker in a square-toed cleat. I wore it the whole time. I never came off the field. I played guard and tackle on offense."

Battles played college football at Samford under a couple of notable coaches, Terry Bowden and Chan Gailey.

Lauren Fields is one of many "Miss Vicki" girls to become a majorette at the college level, as she did at Auburn University

"Two things I learned, one from each coach. We did not waste a moment at a Terry Bowden practice. Everything was orchestrated. A horn went off every five minutes - as organized as anything I've ever been around. When my dad came and watched me practice he said, 'I've never seen anything like it.'

"When Chan Gailey got there my senior year. He was coming off having coached (with) the Denver Broncos. He was a players' coach. The first thing he did was set up 15-minute meetings. We never talked about football. He said, 'What do you want to do with your life?' That really affected me."

After college it appeared that Battles would join his father at Hueytown as a coach. It did not happen due to nepotism rules, so the younger Battles ended up as an assistant across town at Oak Grove.

"My first coaching interview was at a fireworks stand with Gene Rogers. I coached for a year. Loved the place."

The next year, Battles Sr. moved to Gautier, Miss. and asked his son to join him. Once again, the hire was nixed due to a nepotism rule. So, Battles Jr. joined the staff at nearby Pascagoula.

"They're separated by the Pascagoula River. Bill Matthews, Shane Mattews dad, was the head coach."

Everett Joiner parachuted in the game ball to O'Brien Stadium for Senior Night in 2018

The two Battles never coached on the same staff together.

"We used to have a running thing," Battles said of his dad. "On the first day of two-a-days, we would call each other to see who was up first."

Battles and Battles have only faced off as head coaches twice - in exhibitions only.

Will Blocker scores against Elmore County in the final game of his THS career during the 2019 season

"We played (Handley) when I was at Bibb in spring games. They weren't typical spring games. It turns out my dad is about seven points better as a coach than I've ever been. The first time they beat us 21-14. The next time they beat us 21-14. The year we played at Bibb was the year they won the state. They were 3A. We got beat by Jackson. Jackson won the state in 4A."

Earlier this year, Battles, Sr. was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Montgomery. He retired in 2017 after 47 years of coaching,

"If they called him tomorrow he'd be gone in a heartbeat. That's what my mom is scared of. She's enjoyed him being retired."

In 1997, Battles left Mississippi and his father behind to return to Alabama where he started his head coaching career back at Oak Grove.

"I didn't know anything then. Things were different. We had about six plays. Back then they won in spite of me."

Battles coached 11 seasons at Oak Grove compiling a 71-49 record reaching the Class 4A playoffs seven times. The success led to a head position at Bibb County in 2008. Battles was 46-6 in four seasons. He was named the ASWA Class 4A Coach of the Year in 2010.

"Those kids were hungry. We just had some tremendous athletes. It never hurts that first year to have an NFL tailback - Zac Stacey. You're always a better coach. Zac played on a team that won the fewest. We went 10-2 that year. The next three years, we had 14 or 15 players sign (college scholarships)."

Similar to his final two years as player in high school at Walter Wellborn, he lost to the team that would win the state title in his final two seasons in Centreville. Thomasville was the 4A champ in 2010. Jackson won it in 2011.

"Two times we were within a play of probably winning the state championship."

Nobody does homecoming like Tallassee

In 2012, Battles inquired about the head coaching vacancy at Tallassee through a former THS coach, Mark Rose.

"I called Mark. He's the only guy I knew that really had a tie. I said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'If you're fortunate enough to get the job you won't regret it.' He told the truth."

The first season in Tallassee was a good one. The Tigers went 9-3. One of the most thrilling wins came early in the season when Nic Mullins lined up for a 45-yard field goal vs. Charles Henderson in Troy. *(Nic Mullins Kick Video)

Nic Mullins hit the game winner, a 45-yard field goal to beat Charles Henderson as time expired in Troy during Battles' first season in 2012

"There was 59 seconds left. We got the ball on probably about the 30-yard line. Our mindset was let's just make a first down (and) run the clock out. We're going to overtime. It's 14-14. Then Herman (McKenzie) busts one down the sideline. He gets on about their 48. We run two plays and they stop us. On third down, the clock is ticking down. Jed Carter drops back to pass. They rush. They're about to get him. He jukes up, breaks to the ouside and runs down their sideline out of bounds. We had time. Then of course Nic goes out there.

"I've got a picture behind my desk with the ball coming right through the uprights. It was another improbable one. Our boys weren't playing for overtime."

The last game of the 2012 season did go to overtime. After a first-round win over Clarke County 17-14, the Tigers traveled to Dora. Tallassee lost in OT 41-40. Or did they?

A dejected Dijon Paschal after being ruled short of the end zone on the final play of the 2012 season. Tallassee lost to Dora in overtime 41-40 in the second round of the playoffs. Paschal played college football at Arkansas State.

"We didn't lose. They called that wrong," Battles said. "They had a good football team. Herman went down in the first quarter. We basically put everything on the shoulders of Dijon Paschal. Dijon kept us in the game. We scored and it was a no brainer. We were going for two. I'm looking on the field and Dijon from about the waist up is laying in the end zone. The head official is about to raise his hands up. Then one runs over and does that.

"What might have happened? Who knows? What if Herman doesn't get hurt in the first quarter? That's just what ifs."

Battles first Tallassee team broke the record for points in a season with 458 outscoring opponents by an average of 38-17.

"There was a lot of talent. It was a great group to come into. I've been very fortunate when I've taken new jobs and come to places, we've had great players. They made us look like good coaches that first year."

For the 2013 season, Tallassee was 8-3 and exited the playoffs with a first round loss at Calera 21-10. Three all-stars shared the backfield in D.J. Rivers, Herman McKenzie and Brandon Baynes. Rivers played in the AHSAA All-Star game. McKenzie was ASWA honorable mention at running back. Baynes was a first-team pick as an athlete by the ASWA.

"I think we all had over 1,000 yards rushing," Baynes said. "With that Notre Dame Box, it was hard for other teams to stop us. We had a great offensive line too."

Players salute THS with the playing of the alma mater after a victory

In 2014, the Tigers went 8-4. Baynes was first team again and the Class 5A Back of the Year. He broke the single-season rushing record at Tallassee with 2,599 yards. The record, held by Justin Williams, was broken in the first round of the playoffs.

"I remember I got Hunter "Oatmeal" Dennis' phone," Baynes recalled. "I got the calculator and typed in how many yards and added that game. I remember I broke it. I ran to Justin Creamer and we started running down the sidelines."

Brandon (left) and younger brother Casey

Baynes also broke the single-game mark with 392 yards on the ground at Talladega, a 40-6 win.

"They honored his grandfather Ronnie that night. Ronnie was a three-sport letterman at Talladega," Battles said. "We were playing against one of my high school buddies Robert Herring, "Little" Robert. Big Robert was the coach at Oxford. Jeremy Sewell was a kicker at Oxford. He was one of the assistant coaches. One of the officials was Jason Troupe, a linebacker off that same team. I went out there before the game and handed Troupe a dollar bill and said, 'Hey, try to keep this semi-fair.

"Robert tells the story. In the third or fourth quarter, it was the last time Brandon took off. Robert's yelling, 'That's a clip." Troupe turns around and said, 'It ain't going to make a difference.' Those are things you remember."

Once Baynes hit the open field, short runs became long touchdowns thanks to his exceptional speed. He finished second overall at the 2014 state indoor meet in the Class 1A-4A 60 meters.

Although the record for rushing yards in a game came against Talladega, Baynes said his 380 yards at Lineville vs. Clay County was more impressive.

"Central of Clay was my best game. They were far better than Talladega. It was such a huge game for us."

Tallassee won 31-15 and finished in a three-way tie for the region title. The tiebreaker made them the region's top seed for the playoffs.

After a 49-20 blowout of Rehobeth in the first round, Tallassee hosted Jackson. Battles had been knocked out of the post-season by the Aggies twice while at Bibb County. It would happen again at Tallassee in consecutive seasons, 34-12 in 2014 and 35-7 in 2015.

Truck Griffin carries in the banner prior to kickoff. Griffin signed a college scholarship with Alcorn State University.

The '15 season ended with a 5-6 record, Battles first losing season in nine years. The losing record is still the only time under .500 for Battles during his Tallassee tenure.

The 2016 team rebounded with Battles' deepest run so far at THS. The Tigers reached the third round, but it looked as though the playoffs might elude them.

The team had dropped three straight after a 4-0 start. After a 48-7 win over Holtville, the Tigers headed to Leeds for a pivotal regional game against the two-time defending champions.

"Those three games, we turned it over 15 times. We didn't turn it over 15 times in the previous three years. We decided we would hang on to the football. That was an interesting game because the crowd is on one side. We put in a special defense. We had to do it because they had tremendous speed at the corners. I think it caught them by surprise. That changed the outcome. Our kids were back."

Tallassee won 26-13 and closed out the '16 season with a 56-22 win at Elmore County. The Tigers were the No. 2 seed behind Handley, a team they beat 21-12 in week three of the season. Handley went on to win the 4A championship.

"I'm not real sure if we'd played Handley later in the season if we could've played with them. They were so physically dominant, but we caught them (early). We were in tremendous shape. They were not. I ran into the coach of Clay Central in the playoff meeting that year. Handley beat them (50-29) that Friday night. He said, 'They got in shape.'"

Tallassee squeaked by Hale County on a Jamarcus Miller punt return for a touchdown in the first playoff game 29-26 and then routed St. James in Montgomery, 42-14.

"St. James had a heck of team. They had that linebacker Sterling Jones. He and Casey hit head on in the first quarter. He never returned. Casey played the rest of the game."

The next week in the quarters did not go Tallassee's way in a 51-7 defeat to Andalusia. The 9-4 season in 2016 was the first with Casey Baynes at quarterback.

Casey, like his brother Brandon who preceded him, was a star not only in football but baseball too. He played in the Alabama All-Star Sports Week baseball and football games during his junior and senior years.

Both Baynes went the baseball route in college. Brandon played at Central Alabama Community College and AUM. Casey played at Southern Union.

"I liked baseball, but it was hard to beat football games," Brandon said. "I didn't know what I was going to do until it came down to having to choose one. It was a hard decision. I thought about it for months."

Casey also had a mutual passion for both sports.

"I loved football and baseball too, but (with) football you can't beat a Friday night."

Battles saw something in Casey in his first home start against W.S. Neal during the 2016 season.

"We're losing and get the ball on (our) 19-yard line with 1:21 left. Casey led us down the field in about five plays and jumped into the end zone on the last play and won the game. That's when we knew we had a leader."

The 26-21 come-from-behind win vs. Neal in 2016 showed that Baynes had the moxie needed when the game was on the line. *(W.S. Neal Video)

"That last drive, just thinking about it gives me chills," Baynes said. "When I was running time was running down. I just kept going and Brady Hancock and Markevious (Matthews) kept blocking down the field. I didn't know I was going to score until I got to about the 10-yard line. It was like right there. There was one dude who was about to get me, so I had to dive.

"I remember laying there for about five seconds and Jake Burton coming over and just hitting me. I remember flexing running down in front of the stands. It was a great play and great memory I will always have."

2016       2017    
at Russell County W 25-0   vs. Russell County W 21-14
vs. W.S. Neal W 26-21   at W.S. Neal W 28-13
vs. Handley W 21-12   at Handley W 21-13
at Childersburg W 35-12   vs. Childersburg W 28-19
vs. Munford L 36-22   at Munford L 19-6
vs. T.R. Miller L 34-27   at T.R. Miller W 33-29
at Dadeville L 44-27   vs. Dadeville W 54-13
vs. Holtville W 48-7   at Holtville W 44-28
at Leeds W 26-13   vs. Leeds W 36-21
at Elmore County W 56-22   vs. Elmore County W 34-10
vs. Hale County W 29-26   vs. Thomasville W 35-32 (OT)
at St. James W 42-14   at Bibb County L 41-16
vs. Andalusia L 51-7        

Tallassee went 10-2 in 2017 with Baynes running the offense. He orchestrated the biggest comeback in THS football history that season in Brewton vs. T.R. Miller. Miller was 6-0 all time vs. Tallassee and appeared to be on their way to their seventh win in as many tries. Tallassee overcame a 22-point 29-7 third quarter deficit in a 33-29 win. *(TR Miller Comeback Video Highlights)

"At halftime, people expect I'm going to be yelling and getting on them. I was very calm. I said very little," Battles said. "I got coach (John) Mask, coach (Scott) Justiss (and) coach (Danny) Worley to talk to the team. They talked about pride. The most improbable thing happened and probably never will again in my coaching career however God-willing long it is - three onside kicks in a row. You're lucky if you get one."

Jake Burton was the kicker for the Tigers.

"Jake is still the best there is. He kicked one sky high and we got the first one. The next one he bounces off somebody. The third one, they lined up on the 45, five yards deep, and he just kicks ten and a half yards and ran and got on it. But the kick that made the whole game, is (when) they have all eleven players within ten yards. Jake kicks a ball and it goes dead on the one. We tackle them on the two."

Kalvin Levett led the Tigers to a 28-7 win over Catholic in the season opener in 2018. Levett signed a scholarship with Tuskegee after his senior season.

Tallassee's 9-1 regular season was the best since the 2010 season. The No. 4 ranking at season's end was the highest since 2000. The 10 wins was the most since 1999.

The tenth win of the '17 campaign came in dramatic fashion. Tallassee faced Thomasville at home in the first round of the state playoffs. The game went to overtime. After the Tallassee defense stopped Thomasville on their first possession, Thomasville returned the favor.

Quenton Jeter celebrates with his teammates after his game-winner

Quenton Jeter lined up for a 25-yard field goal and made it for a 35-32 win. The next week, Tallassee was knocked out of the playoffs by Bibb County 41-16.

The 2018 season produced a 6-4 outcome and broke a string of ten straight post-season appearances. Tallassee was 5-4 in 2019.

In Battles first eight years, five players have been named first team all-state by the ASWA; Herman McKenzie (2012), Brandon Baynes (2013, '14), Jake Baker (2016), Trent Cochran-Gill (2017) and Kalvin Levett (2018).

Which teams have been the best during Battles' year in Tallassee? Brandon Baynes thinks it was in Battles' first season in 2012.

"The best one I played on was my sophomore year. It was me, Dijon, Herman and DJ. We had that offensive line with Corbin Hammonds, Jesse Rowlen, "Oatmeal" (Dennis) and Jed (Carter) at quarterback. That was a pretty good team."

Casey thinks his junior team in 2016 was the best.

The Pride of Tallassee

"That senior class, Jake Baker and Jamarcus Miller, they were hard to replace."

Tallassee has never won a state championship, although Battles said the program would have trophies if a playoff system were in place during the O'Brien era.

"It's something I think about all the time. I look at missed opportunities I've had as a player and a coach. One team's going to win it. That's it. As you go through your career you start eliminating the things that can keep you from doing it. You try to make sure you cover all the things, so when you ahve that one year, when you have that group of kids, you have the bunch that can do it.

"I don't think that there's a coach in the state of Alabama that doesn't wake up every monrning thinking about winning that championship. My dad had two - 36 years apart. Those 35 years, every morning he got up thinking about the next one. If that's not your ultimate goal, you probably need to find something else to do."

Tallassee in ASWA Top 10
*Highest Ranking By Year

Year
Top Ranking
Head Coach
2018 No. 6 (5A) Mike Battles
2017 No. 4 Mike Battles
2013 No. 7 Mike Battles
2012 No. 8 Mike Battles
2010 No. 9 (5A) Rodney Dollar
2000 No. 4 Jared Jones
1999 No. 3 Mark Rose
1996 No. 6 Steve McCord
1991 No. 4 Woody Weaver
1990 No. 6 Woody Weaver
1989 No. 4 Woody Weaver
1988 No. 10 Woody Weaver
1983 No. 10 (3A) Mark Rice
1961 No. 5 (3A) Jackie Davis
1960 No. 3 (3A) Jackie Davis
1959 No. 6 (MA) Jackie Davis
1954 No. 8 (BPH) Charles Hattaway

*The ASWA weekly poll began in 1960.
Tallassee was ranked by the Montgomery Advertiser in 1959 and Birmingham Post-Herald in 1954.
THS was ranked in the Class 4A poll in all years unless noted otherwise. The Tigers moved from Class 3A to 4A when the number of AHSAA classifications expanded from four to six classes in 1984. The Tigers have been in Class 4A for 26 of 36 seasons since 1984.