Denton Ryan QB could give Texas big edge in Oil Bowl
Nick Gholson

If the 66th Oil Bowl game goes down to the wire Saturday night, Texas will have a big advantage.
That advantage is named James Battle.
No high school quarterback in the state of Texas was better at crunch time in big games the last three years than this kid from Denton Ryan.
Turn back the clock to 2000 and the Class 4A Division I quarterfinals. Battle’s quarterback sneak on the last play of the game beat Corsicana 33-29.
The next year Battle threw a 19-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the game to let Ryan escape Waxahachie 28-24 in the first round of the playoffs. A few weeks later in the state championship game, he directed a late 67-yard touchdown drive to send it to overtime, where Ryan won 42-35 over Smithson Valley.
Last season with Ryan trailing Aledo by seven points in the quarterfinals, Battle threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to rally his team to a 34-27 victory. The next week, the Raiders scored 15 points in 45 seconds late in the fourth quarter for an 18-14 win that snapped Ennis’ 16-game playoff win streak.
“The biggest intangible that you never read about him is he’s a great, great kid and a great, great leader,” said Glen West, the head coach for Texas in the Oil Bowl and a guy whose Brenham team fell victim to Battle and Ryan, 38-8, in the last year’s Class 4A Division II state championship game.
“Football is still a game that is played from the heart and the brain, two assets never talked about except by his own high school coach.”
Strength, speed, accuracy and athleticism are talked about a lot, and Battle also has all of the above.
The year before Battle became the starting quarterback, football was a joke at Denton Ryan. In 1999, the Raiders were 1-9. In the three years with Battle, Ryan was 42-4, went to three straight state championship games and won the last two.
As a senior, Battle completed 192 of 313 passes for 2,989 yards and 31 touchdowns and carried the ball 196 times for 872 yards and 19 TDs. He was voted the Class 4A Player of the Year in Texas.
Now add humility to the list of overlooked traits.
Instead of bragging on himself – which he very well could – for the huge turnaround at Ryan, Battle credited head coach Joey Florence and his staff for making it all happen.
“After you’ve been losing like we had, you start getting that ‘we can’t win’ attitude. But the coaches came in and got us back ready to play with a lot of heart and a little talent,” he said.
Battle credits Kevin Atkinson for helping him become the quarterback he is today. Atkinson was Florence’s offensive coordinator in 2000 and 2001 before moving on to be head coach at Keller.
“I had been an option quarterback my whole life and didn’t know how to throw, but coach Atkinson came in and taught me my fundamentals,” Battle said. “The first year was a learning process, and we lost in the state championship game. The next year I knew the offense more and we won the state championship. He helped me develop as a player.”
Now it looks like Battle will once again be an option quarterback. While still playing his senior season, he committed to TCU after just one visit.
“Coach (Gary) Patterson and his coaching staff are the mirror of coach Florence and his staff. That’s why they have won back-to-back bowls. It’s just like Denton Ryan. Everybody is a leader and not just one person,” he explained.
“That’s what I was looking for. The first place that I found that was like the place I was at, there was where I was going to go.”
Before playing for TCU, Battle will play in a couple of summer all-star games. Both times he will be on the same roster with the Class 5A Player of the Year and a guy who plays the game much like he does – Chase Wasson of Southlake Carroll.
Southlake Carroll head coach Todd Dodge, the offensive coordinator for the Texas Oil Bowl team, said he would probably alternate Wasson and Battle every two series.
“I don’t have a problem with it. He (Wasson) is good, that’s all there is to it. If I was a whole lot better, it might be different,” Battle said.
Strangely, when the two get together again late next month at the North-South All-Star Game in Fort Worth, their coach will be Battle’s old head coach, Joey Florence. Like Dodge, he will find some way to utilize the talents of both of these player of the year quarterbacks.
But if things are close late in the game, both of these coaches might want to use the same battle plan – put the ball in Battle’s hands. Odds are he will win it for you.
Sports Editor Nick Gholson can be reached before 4 p.m. weekdays by calling (940) 720-3447 or 1-800-626-1646 (ext. 447). Or you can e-mail him at gholsonn@timesrecordnews.com.