Shyheim Battle, Rocky Mount's 15-offer kid, was ready for this moment
By SAMUEL EVERS
Saturday, March 10, 2018
There is a grainy cell phone video from December, 2015 that Linwood Battle still likes to talk about, still likes to show anyone wanting to look.
It’s of his son, Shyheim, on the left with a teammate after the final game of his freshman season with the Rocky Mount Gryhpons.
Shyheim, wearing a blue No. 7 jersey with yellow block letters, says to the camera: “D-I. I want my letters and I want my offers.”
Fast forward to March, 2018, and he’s got those letters. Tons of them. Two size 13 shoe boxes worth of them. So many that the people at the post office want to meet the kid behind the steady flow.
“These will be good memories someday,” says the youngest Battle, 16, sifting through the orange Nike box and black Jordan box for some of the bigger schools.
There’s a shiny, plastic orange one from the Clemson Tigers. It’s a Thursday. He’s going down for an official visit with his parents, his friend and his girlfriend the next day. The Tigers offered him a football scholarship on Feb. 21.
Ohio State came nine days after that. The SEC came knocking when Tennessee added to the total. He’s got his letters -- 15 offers, officially, with more to come for the junior cornerback.
He’s got those. So now what does he want?
To make the NFL, hopefully. If he gets there, maybe play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even though it’s cold in Pittsburgh. He wants to meet Deion Sanders and his sons. He wants to start a business. He wants to leave Rocky Mount.
“I mean, Rocky Mount -- there’s not too much to do here,” he said. “I mean, I love it here. It’s my home. I’ll always come back and visit, but I want to see the world.”
In this period of a few months where Shyheim has gone from local recruit to power-five prospect, there’s been no bigger reminder for him that his life has changed than the early morning texts, usually when he’s in first period of his school day.
All types of coaches check in from all types of schools. When he visited Duke last weekend, on Monday morning at 8:20 a.m. the Blue Devils’ coaching staff came buzzing. On Twitter, local kids flood his direct message inbox.
He says he loves the process, the attention and managing his time to fit in everything on the football side while still giving his school work the time it needs.
For an idea of what all this was going to be like, he consulted local athletes ahead of him who have experienced a similar courtship -- Rocky Mount High’s Sherrod Greene, who is wrapping up his freshman year at South Carolina; Tarboro’s Tyquan Lewis, who enters the NFL Draft this spring after four years at Ohio State; and Greenville’s Cornell Powell, a junior at Clemson. He hopes to get in contact with Todd Gurley II.
When first period ends, he tries to answer every person back, though some ask for a phone call -- all a part of “blowing up,” as people on Twitter like to tell him.
Linwood, who graduated from SouthWest Edgecombe in 1987, never played football. His school’s coach asked him to join the team as a cornerback during his senior season, which would have matched him in practice alongside Yancey Thigpen, the future pro-bowler who caught 30 touchdowns in the NFL. But he never tried out.
“I was just too shy,” he said. “I was so shy it was unreal.”
About his son, he isn’t shy anymore.
“I do get protective of him. Like I tell him, take everything in stride,” Linwood said. “Even just within the city here. Everybody wants to touch his shoulder or just say hey to him. Take it in stride -- you always say thanks and you’re welcome. He’s going to do that anyways because that’s how I raised him.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” he continued. “I tell him all the time, when these coaches text you, you don’t always have to respond back. All these schools and there’s only one Shyheim. Put the phone down sometimes. If you don’t hit them back, they’re still going to text you.”
There is, in fact, a particular moment that Linwood can pinpoint, that he knew his son was going to be a special athlete.
The scene: Shyheim’s undefeated youth football team in fifth grade was playing Nash County, also undefeated, in the championship game. Neither team scored in regulation so the game went to overtime, where both teams took a shot at scoring from the 20-yard line, but again came up short.
The third time, on the first play, Shyheim caught a sweep and made a dash for the end zone, outrunning the defense for a game-winning touchdown. On the sideline was Linwood, wearing a customized shirt with his son’s face on it that read M-V-P.
Shyheim played running back as a middle schooler and was the quarterback on the junior varsity team his freshman season. The idea to switch didn’t come until between his second high school season.
“Coach (Jason Battle), after my freshman season, told me in order for me to play on the next level I had to play at corner. He talked to me one-on-one and I said, ‘Alright coach. I’ll go for it,’” Shyheim said. “I just started by trying to get comfortable at corner. I ended up learning a little bit. My first year at the position, I did better than average for a first year corner.”
That was his sophomore season, where the Gryphons reached, but lost, the state title game, with Shyheim sealing one of the playoff games along the way with an interception. By the end of the school year, he had his first offer from Duke. N.C. State and East Carolina followed by the end of the 2017 season. The other 12 have come since.
At 6-foot-2 with long arms, the position was pitched to him by Jason Battle as the perfect spot for his size and capabilities, the football world these days less enamoured with the 5-foot-10, 5-foot-11 cornerbacks.
“A perfect storm for him,” Linwood said.
Shyheim has a friend a year older than him, another football player, who, by his estimation, is pound-for-pound just as good as him.
The difference between the two comes off of the field.
“He wanted to hang outside of school. Wrong crowds,” he said. “He wanted me to hang with him. I couldn’t do it, I had my mindset.
“I let him do him and he let me do me, and the difference is that I actually got an opportunity. He didn’t want to work. He fell short.”
To not be like any of the other players who fell short -- he and his father, with the help of his coach, have made that their goal.
His Instagram and Twitter name is ShyOutta252, and he says it’s no offense to the city and area both his parents grew up in, it’s just an itch to see what else there is. Miami, or California, are two of his destinations.
Of the 15 offers to come play for a respective school, Ohio State, Clemson -- one of his dream schools -- and Tennessee packed a wow-factor. He’s waiting on Auburn, because Linwood loves Auburn, or maybe Louisiana State University, a school known for its defensive backs on the next level.
He’ll take the summer to train and work and ask for advice, play out his senior season and commit either during or after the season, he says.
The plan is to graduate from high school a semester early in December, to get a head start on a college career and a leg up on playing time.
Collectively, they’ve thought of everything. And they’ve been thinking, ever since Linwood walked into the coaches office in 2015 and announced that his son was the real deal. The boxes of letters have just been confirmation.
“Before the offers, everybody was still cool with me. They loved me, the offers start to come around and they still talk to me. Everybody wants to be your friend -- ‘Can I go with you this place?’ But that’s OK. I’m a people’s person. I’m cool with everybody,” Shyheim said. “I’ve got other people in my ear, too, saying what’s real and what’s fake. Everything out there I’m taking in -- is it really true or are they just trying to be with me? I just try to figure out what’s real and what’s not.”