As we grow up, our parents and other elders often tell us that “we can do anything we put our mind to.” Now obviously, not everything is possible, but the principle of the statement stays the same. With hard work, perseverance, and will, you can defy the odds. One person who has had his eyes on the prize and won’t stop until he reaches his goal is Tyler Batts.
Batts, who attended Woodland Hills High School, Steel Valley High School and Penn Trafford High School, is currently signed with the Lakeland Raiders of the Ultimate Indoor Football League. It’s the way he got here however, that is the real story.
After his high school graduation from Penn Trafford, Batts channeled his inner LeBron James and took his talents down to Florida to be with his half-brother and his mother for school at Webber International University. Batts decided to move back to Pennsylvania his junior year of school and attended Gannon University.
The sport that he played however, isn’t what you may think.
“I had offers from Cal U, Edinboro and schools like that,” Batts said. “They were all mostly for basketball though.”
Batts, who like his younger brothers Jordan (defensive end at IUP) and Julian (a top 80 sophomore basketball player in the country), was a standout athlete in multiple sports. But it was during his junior season that he decided to include the gridiron to his college repertoire.
“I moved back my junior year from Florida to play point guard for basketball,” Batts said. “I ended up walking on for football and earning myself a scholarship.”
In just two years on the Gannon football team, Batts left his mark in a big way. He holds the school record for kickoff return yardage at 21.40 per return, ranks No. 11 all-time in rushing yards (1,250) and all-purpose yards (2,144), as well as No. 19 in points (60) in just 22 games at the collegiate level. It wasn’t just the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) that were taking notice of Batt’s performance. NFL scouts were quick to realize the potential of the 5’9, 185-pound running back/returner as well.
Batts held his pro day at Gannon and also competed in FCS Division I North-South game which you can see his highlights. Following the workouts, a few teams were interested in him and he thought they may have drafted him
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“It went well,” Batts said of his pro day. “We thought the Bills were going to take me because they were really interested. I did 22 reps on 225 pounds. The Jets sent a scout to the Division I All Star Game as well.”
The lockout and a slower 40-time then the scouts wanted altered those plans.
“The scouts wanted me to run a low 4.3, but I ran a 4.41,” Batts said. “I thought the Bills were going to take me in the draft, but because of the lockout, they took a lot of bigger school guys. I didn’t get any calls after that.”
Batts quickly threw the notion of him being “too small” out of the window and said the scouts compared him to one of the more versatile backs in the NFL.
“I don’t think it was a size thing,” Batts said. “Scouts said they loved how I ran hard and how I caught the ball out of the backfield. They compared me to Darren Sproles.”
Like Sproles, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, Batts had a lot to prove to the naysayers. While it wasn’t the NFL, Batts signed his first professional contract with the Cedar Rapid Titans of the Indoor Football League.
Batts, who said he was one of the youngest players on the team, looked like a man on a mission as he took the league by storm in his rookie campaign. He accounted for 473 all-purpose yards, including six rushing touchdowns and three receiving. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed as he was named the Rookie of the Year in the IFL.
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“It was fun. It was good and I learned from a lot of the guys,” Batts said. “They all kept encouraging me to workout and stay strong. I was the only one who got a private workout for CFL team.”
The CFL of course is the Canadian Football League. But those doors didn’t unlock for Batts either. What he did next however, was try out for the top-tier of Indoor Football, the Arena Football League. Two years ago, his hometown Pittsburgh was awarded a franchise in the Pittsburgh Power. Batts received a tryout with then-coach Chris Siegfried.
“Last year, I had a private workout with the Power,” Batts explained. “Siegfried said he loved me said he was going to sign me, but ended up getting fired. He said he thinks the new coach is going to get in contact with me.”
This off-season, Batts signed his deal with the Raiders in what is a step down from the UFL. Batts said his good friend B.J. Hall, who he played with at Webber International, influenced him to sign there. As Batts put it, the general manager said there may be a chance that he doesn’t even play a snap for them. Don’t get it wrong, it’s a good thing.
“He’s looking out for guys already,” Batts said. “He says I may not play a down because he’s trying to market my name. He made a bio for me and put my name out for other teams. He thinks I have what it takes to play at the next level.”
By next level, he of course means the NFL. Batts said he feels he could impact a team in the NFL with his versatility. It’s apparent by his Twitter account (@Mr_Batts6), the he feels he can play on that level.
“I definitely think I could make a difference for a team,” Batts said. “I’m versatile, I can run between tackles, return punts and kicks and my strength combined with my low center of gravity makes me tough to bring down. I’m not on that level of Shady (LeSean McCoy), (Ray) Rice, Sproles, or (Jamaal) Charles (Batts favorite players), but I have piece of all of them in my game.”
“I feel I could be a great third down back. I could punt return or play slot. I can be a mixture of (Wes) Welker and Sproles because my senior year, I led the team in rushing and receiving.”
Batts has had the help of three NFL players mentoring him and giving him advice along the way. From his time at Woodland Hills (or as it’s known locally “Woody High”), Batts got to know Darrin Walls of the New York Jets and Steve Breaston of the Kansas City Chiefs. His father is also the coach of Jeannette High School basketball where he developed a good friendship with Ohio State standout and current Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
“They all just tell me to keep my head up and keep putting in the work,” Batts said. “Eventually, my opportunity is going to come.”
While football is the dream, Batts also has a backup plan of being a college professor as he is currently pursuing his master’s degree through Gannon. If he does end up playing for Lakeland this year, he is going to transfer to Jacksonville University, Palm Beach Atlantic University or Florida International University.
Don’t count on seeing Dr. Batts in a classroom anytime soon though. As his profile on the Lakeland Raiders website says, it’s his hunger that keeps him going.
“I work hard. I can’t give up on it,” Batts said. “I can go back to school, but can’t play football forever. I think my opportunity is going to come soon.”
For any of those who may doubt Batts, just remember, like his favorite running backs, sometimes the best things come in in smaller packages.
“A big heart comes in a small package. I work hard so they’ll see me on the field,” Batts said. “I just need that opportunity.”
For Batts, not only is he doing anything he puts his mind to, but he’s proving another old adage right that “when there’s a will, there’s a way.” Batts has the will and don’t be surprised if he finds his way onto the football field on Sunday’s in the not so distant future.
Photo Credits: Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette