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Homestead cheers native son Batch

Charlie Batch is the pride of Homestead and the future of Detroit

Thursday, November 26, 1998

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

PONTIAC, Mich. -- Charlie Batch is 23 years old, quarterback for the Detroit Lions, handing the ball off to Barry Sanders and tossing passes to Herman Moore.

 
  Detroit's Charlie Batch, on the move.

"It's nice."

Charlie Batch is making a bigger impact in his rookie season than John Elway or Steve Young did. For that matter, having a far better year than Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning, the two highly touted rookie quarterbacks drafted ahead of him last summer.

"I'm not worried about anybody else."

Charlie Batch is preparing to take the Silverdome field today at 12:30 p.m. to face the Steelers, the team he worshipped as a youngster, born and raised in Homestead.

Just don't expect him to gush about it. Or get rattled. Or awestruck.

"It's just another game."

He is bright, funny and easy-going, with bashful eyes and a warm smile. But above all else, Charlie Batch is poised, cool, calm. A natural.

"You know, I can only think of one way I would be shocked by anything Charlie does," said Jack Giran, his old coach at Steel Valley High School. "And that would be if he called me up and said 'Hey, coach! Wow! I'm playing with Barry Sanders and it's awesome!' That's just not Charlie. To him, this is all normal. He expects to succeed. He expects to excel."

He is doing nothing less than that in Detroit.

Since taking the Lions' starting job in Week 3, Batch, the 60th overall selection in the draft last summer, has completed 58.8 percent of his passes, while throwing eight touchdowns to just six interceptions, ranking 16th in the league with an 80.8 passer rating.

 
  Steelers Extra Pregame coverage:

Columnist Bob Smizik: Less than best of Bettis won't do

Rookie quarterbacks usually fit right into Steelers' plans

The Big Picture: CBS puts a new glow on the game

Today's Matchup: Steelers (7-4) at Lions (4-7)

Gerry Dulac's NFL Forecast

   
 

By comparison, Manning, the top choice in the draft, has been picked off 22 times and has a 63.4 rating for the Indianapolis Colts. Leaf, selected right after Manning, had posted an NFL-worst 39.9 passer rating before losing his starting job with the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago. His opposite number today, the more experienced Kordell Stewart, has a 73.1 rating.

"People talk about Leaf and Manning, but Charlie's the best rookie quarterback. Bar none," said Lions wide receiver Johnnie Morton. "People don't even notice he's a rookie."

"He's got character, baby," said tight end Walter Rasby. "He's somebody you can depend on to be there for you."


Natural father

Batch learned early in life about dependability. His father left the house when he was 11/2 years old. By the time he was 8, he was offering his services as a babysitter for his younger brother and sister.

"From there on, Charlie became the man of the house," said Lynn Settles, Batch's mother. "And he didn't mind it at all. His brother and sister would complain about it sometimes, but Charlie took them on as his responsibility."

 
  Charlie Batch's mother, Lynn Settles, at her home in Homestead. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

Settles instructed Vernon and Danyl, products of her short-lived second marriage, to listen to Charlie, putting him in the role of mentor for Vernon and overprotective big brother to Danyl.

"Yeah, I was the bad guy," he recalled with a little laugh. "You know, I was the one who had to disapprove of Danyl's boyfriends and all that. I wanted to see her grow up right."

He never got the chance. On Feb. 17, 1996, Danyl was shot and killed near her home, caught in the cross-fire of local gangs. She was 17.

"They were so close," Settles said of Batch and his sister. "The way the two of them talked, the way she supported him and he defended her ..."

Batch's memories of his sister still bring him comfort and strength.

"She was pretty tough on me, you know. She was never afraid to say to me exactly what she thought, and that's really important."

Batch contemplated quitting football after the tragedy, but returned to Eastern Michigan University at his mother's urging.

" 'That's what your sister would have told you,' I told him," Settles said. "She loved to watch him play."

Mark Zuger, Homestead's police chief, said Danyl's death remains unsolved, but added that it's no mystery the way Batch and his family responded to the tragedy.

"We've worked hard to try to turn Homestead around, and Charlie and his mother have always been leaders here in this community," Zuger said. "Even when he was a kid, Charlie was somebody the kids looked up to. And look at him now. He had a tough life and he made it."

Zuger keeps a picture of Batch on his desk at police headquarters, and is one of dozens of Homestead residents who have taken long bus rides to watch him in the NFL the past few weeks. Some folks remember him for his athletic prowess in high school, others simply as the kid who woke up before sunrise each morning to deliver the Post-Gazette.

Just like Kordell Stewart in those television ads?

"No, I was on my bike," Batch said with a laugh. "And it was dark."

He remembers earning "like $10 or $12 a week, almost nothing." But even at age 10 it allowed him to feel like he was helping his mother, who was working two jobs to support three children.

Batch and his mother have been inseparable in life, forging an intense relationship which he calls "real special, like knowing you have a best friend now and always."

She was his mother and father, keeping close track of him.

"I'm telling you, she knows everybody in Homestead. When I was younger, it was like 'Oh, hey, you're Lynn's son.' I couldn't get away with anything because if somebody saw it, they'd tell her. There was nothing for me to hide, and that's how we became so close, because it was like 'If you're going to do it, tell me. Don't let me find out on the street.' That's just how it was."

Now, his mother said, that situation is reversed.

"People stop me in Century III Mall. They say, 'Oh, you're Charlie Batch's mom! We saw you on TV!' But to me, it's just like, he's my little boy. And he'll always be that. I can't begin to tell you how close we are."

Batch's father is another matter. He tried to make peace with his son by telephone from California ... right after the Lions drafted him.

"I didn't talk to him," Batch said. "I don't know him."

His mother's reaction?

"The nerve ... "


Natural athlete

When Batch was 6, he brought home a midget football flier. His mother, uncertain of what to do, said no initially but backed down after repeated pleas.

On the first day, the coach tried him out at safety, but it seemed Batch wanted no part of tackling, moving out of the way of oncoming running backs. His explanation? He was afraid to get his uniform dirty.

Born quarterback.

"Next game, the coach wraps the plays around his wrist and Charlie got to throw the ball," Settles recalled. "That's what he's been doing ever since."

Always blessed with a strong arm, Batch made it onto Steel Valley's varsity as a sophomore in 1989. As the backup to Marcel Weems, a gifted senior quarterback, he hadn't expected to play much that season. Yet in the season opener, when Weems became sick at halftime, the team turned to Batch.

"I said, 'Are you ready?' " Giran, the coach, recalled. "He said 'Yeah.' That was it. Like it was nothing."

To Batch, it was. He led the Ironmen 80 yards for a touchdown, then threw for the two-point conversion. That broke a tie and spurred Steel Valley to victory, but Giran most vividly recalls one other after-effect.

"Marcel Weems saw all of that," Giran said, "and, boy, did he get healthy in a hurry."

In the two years that followed, Batch wowed audiences across Western Pennsylvania with his long-range passing, finishing his scholastic career with a four-touchdown performance in an overtime loss in the WPIAL semifinals.

He was nearly as effective, if considerably less flashy, when he played basketball for the Ironmen for those two years.

"Not too many people will believe this now," said Rick Dunmire, Steel Valley's basketball coach, "but Charlie couldn't dunk."

Batch is a lean 6 feet 2 inches, 216 pounds, roughly the same size he was then.

"For a guy that athletic, it's a little funny to look back on that now, but he wasn't a great leaper. And you know the truth? I don't know that he ever tried it. He never tried to do the things he couldn't do."

On the football field, though, it seemed Batch could do anything. Football, and nothing else, was always his passion.

"Charlie loved to draw plays," Giran said. "Anywhere we were, he'd pull out a napkin or something and draw. He talked football even when you tried to change the subject. He loves to study the game."

Batch studied just as hard to pass his Scholastic Aptitude Test in his senior year, but fell short of the NCAA requirement. So, despite his football prowess and a 2.9 grade-point average, all of the colleges which had been knocking on his door dispersed in a hurry. Pitt was one of them and they urged Batch to attend a junior college in Arizona.

Only Eastern Michigan stuck with him, so Batch was off to Ypsilanti, even if it meant sitting out the 1992 season because of his SATs.

In the summer of 1993, he took a job painting roofs and fences with two teammates, then discovered that they were working with toxic materials which could damage their kidneys. Batch missed all of the following season taking treatment, but he was lucky. One of those teammates is still on dialysis, awaiting a kidney transplant, and the other still suffers from kidney failure.

The next year, finally on the football field again, Batch discovered that his coach, Ron Cooper, had a distaste for passing the ball, meaning he would mostly sit on the bench. But in 1995, Rick Rasnick took over on the Eastern sideline and brought with him a wide-open offense. And, just as he had at Steel Valley, Batch succeeded with his first opportunity, earning all-conference honors and being named his team's offensive MVP.

A broken ankle forced him to sit out all of the next season, but in 1997, the NCAA granted him a rare extra year of playing eligibility in his sixth year of college. He knew it would be his one last chance to impress professional scouts, and he made the most of it, setting the school's season and career records.

He drew even more attention shortly before the NFL draft with a sterling performance at a scouting combine, where scouts quickly took note of his potent arm.

Batch also took the opportunity there to introduce himself to Bill Cowher and Dan Rooney.

"As soon as I met them and said the name, it was 'Oh, you're the guy from back home.' " Batch said. "They knew exactly who I was."

Even though he had finally made himself known in NFL circles, few experts expected him to go higher than the fourth round. So when Detroit surrendered three draft choices to the Miami Dolphins to move up and select Batch with the last pick of the second round, many eyebrows were raised. Mel Kiper, noted NFL draft analyst, questioned the Lions, calling their move "a major reach."

"Charlie always believed," his mother said. "He always believed he'd be in the NFL."


Natural rookie

Now that he's in the NFL, Batch wants more.

"You know, the more I'm around Charlie, the more it seems to me that this is nothing more than a natural progression for him, from college to here," said Jim Zorn, Detroit's quarterbacks coach. "He's understanding what's happening to him, and he sees the future."

Lions Coach Bobby Ross didn't like the future he saw after the first two games this season, when incumbent starter Scott Mitchell throw four interceptions. He told Mitchell, who has a $5 million salary, to give the ball to Batch and hold a clipboard the rest of the season.

"This is not a developmental year for Charlie," Ross said. "We are committed to him in the long run."

The Lions' run has been more of a limp, best evidenced by their 4-7 record. But Batch has created a stir in Detroit with several sizzling performances, the finest in an Oct. 15 victory against the Green Bay Packers. He threw for two touchdowns and completed 16 of 19 passes, an 84.2 percentage that was the best by an NFL rookie since 1960.

There have been bad outings, too.

Batch was benched in a Nov. 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals after throwing three ugly interceptions, and has no doubt heard rumblings within the locker room that Ross' move was premature. Moore, the team's most talented receiver, has been eerily quiet when Batch's name has been mentioned. And Sanders, one of the great backs in league history, recently referred to the Lions as "an immature team."

Batch, typically, is unfazed. He speaks glowingly of both players and talks of helping the Lions become winners now, not in two or three seasons.

"This is just what I expect of myself," he said. "I expect to be able to go out there and make plays and do my job. And I'm really lucky to have so many great players around me, and to be able to turn around and hand the ball off to Barry Sanders."

This afternoon, Batch will look across the line of scrimmage and see Levon Kirkland, Carnell Lake and many other Steelers whose pictures and posters still adorn his Homestead bedroom.

"It's going to be a little funny. I mean, ever since I was little, I followed the Steelers," he said, betraying a rich Pittsburgh accent by pronouncing the word "Stillers." "They were my team and I'm sure there will be a lot of people down there rooting against me. Everywhere except Homestead."

Homestead might be a ghost town today. In addition to three busloads headed to the Silverdome, Batch's mother is inviting dozens of friends and family to Charlie's place in suburban Auburn Hills for a colossal Thanksgiving dinner after the game.

"He can't be with us, so we're coming to him," Settles said. "We're just so lucky. You know, the first time he stepped on the field for the Lions, I cried. I thought, 'My God, he finally got here.' The moment went right through me. I thought about all of the kids here in Homestead who will talk about Charlie, who will want to be just like him."

Then she met one.

One afternoon earlier this month, her doorbell rang. She opened the door and looked down to find a 4-year-old boy she had never seen, playfully tossing a football from one hand to the other.

"Can Charlie come outside?"



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