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November 2, 2011Injuries are not a part of life, but they are a part of football life. Few UC fans can forget the career-ending knee injury Vidal Hazelton suffered last fall after a year of training. His senior season ended minutes after its inception.
Pitt has suffered many more heartbreaking injuries that Cincinnati in 2011-2012. They will be replacing a starting running back, starting safety, starting guard, a backup tackle, and a starting receiver.
Thankfully UC has only lost two players for the year.
Cornerback Dominique Battle tore his ACL in the beatific Tampa, Florida. Settling into the starting lineup this week will be sophomore Deven Drane.
This is actually the second season-ending injury to a DB. Many have already forgotten Malcolm Murray because his presence was still fresh. The junior college transfer worked hard all spring/summer, but will be unable to finish the fall.
For Drane the challenge of starting is a welcome one.
"Nothing is different because we have sort of a rotation going on," said Drane. "And every game I prepare like I am going to play eighty snaps."
Battle gave receivers a huge cushion, allowing them to come to him. Then he closed late to challenge the pass. Deven is a completely different look for opposing receivers.
"He is physical," said Coach Jones. "He can play the ball in the air and we are going to rely on him that much more now that Dominique Battle is out with the injury."
Drane's legacy began to build last spring when he completely shut Kenbrell Thompkins down in practice. The overwhelming coverage continued into training camp. At 179 pounds Drane makes his body an impediment.
He bumps runners at the line. His physicality presents problems and can even become a mental frustration. When another human consistently violates your personal space it can be aggravating. Drane's talent for crossing this line makes him both a physical and mental tormenter.
In his second full season of college football Drane is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. This comes from being around the ball obviously. What helps more is his fearless style of play.
Drane picked off B.J. Daniels last game, ran back a Miami INT 43 yards, and hauled in an errant Akron pass.
South Florida might have been the best game of his career though he did not start. Drane brought down six Bulls, a career high.
Without Battle Head Coach Butch Jones is looking at a few other possibilities in the defensive backfield. Entering a BIG EAST road game with just one option is simply irresponsible. He likes a couple of unproven players as alternatives to Drane.
"You know Aaron Roberson primarily played on special teams, a little bit in our nickel and dime packages," said Coach Jones. "He is going to need to step up for us. I know he is looking forward to it. And we will continue to look at the progress that a true freshman, Trenier Orr makes."
For all the success Deven Drane has already had in just the second year of his college jaunt it nearly never happened.
"I was going wherever Coach Jones was," said Drane. "As he was at Central Michigan I was going to go there, but when he left I really didn't have a school to go to cause I don't know if I still had a scholarship to Central Michigan. I wasn't going to go to school and then he called me up, told me, 'I was going to give you a scholarship and see what you can do.' It turned out to be pretty good."
Drane was one of three CMU verbal commitments to accept an offer from UC.
"Me, Montrel (Robinson), and Cody (Kater)," said Drane. When he said he was going to bring us he said we could play in the BIG EAST and the MAC."
QB Kater and WR Robinson are no longer with the program. But Coach Jones took a chance on Deven and continues to believe in the tough DB.
"I'm glad he did it to tell you the truth."
Winning for Battle
Football is not a game that lends itself to emotions or empathy. Faces are covered up by helmets. It is difficult to feel sorrow when your only guidance is body language.
Friends of Dominique Battle know this is a tough time on him though. They talk to him without the constrictions of helmets and pads. In those quiet moments they see his pain.
Injuries are scary. And it reiterates to teammates how fragile this sport is. How quickly it can all be taken away. A really bizarre dynamic permeating football programs the nation-over surrounds the injured. As soon as a guy gets that yellow shirt on, as soon as they are no longer "active" they become ostracized. People walk past them, hardly look at them. They don't often acknowledge them.
It is a very animalistic reaction. Players hate to be forced to witness the injured. Hate to remember their past injuries and be made aware of potential future ones. Fortunately Battle is not being given the third degree.
"He was down," said Drane of Battle. "All of us were telling him, 'We got your back. We are doing this for you. We are going to find a way to win this game.' And that is how we are going to take the rest of the season cause he is one of our brothers. It is real unfortunate that that happened and crazy how it happened. So I just feel like, out of respect, we have to do that for him."