By: Mark Maloney
SEC Digital Network
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Only two years ago, Diondre Batson considered himself a football wide receiver.
Now, the Alabama senior sprinter is all about track and field, thanks to his mother.
Sonja Batson agreed to let Diondre play football, but stipulated that he also try track.
Diondre, from Sacramento, Calif., was a two-sport standout at Laguna Creek High School and then at
American River College.
“I really wanted him to run track because, just watching him as he grew up, even though he was good in football I just thought … ‘you’re growing straight up; you’re not getting any shorter,’” said Sonja, a former sprinter for Oklahoma University. “’You’re getting taller, so I think you should do track.’”
Mother knew best for her son, who now stands 6-foot-3.
In 2012, Diondre had a breakout season with American River. In addition to sweeping the 100 and 200 state junior-college championships, he qualified in the 200 for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Imagine what that did for his confidence.
“It made it go through the roof,” he said.
Recruited to Alabama, Batson left football in his past.
“That was a tough choice to give it up,” he said. “But track has been working out really well. I’m happy.”
Also happy is Matt Kane, Alabama’s sprints and hurdles coach. He loves Batson’s demeanor.
“He’s just a really, really good guy,” Kane said. “And he’s a very humble sprinter, which is what you hope for; not always what you get. And he’s a guy that really is doing things the right way and wants to learn things the right way. You can’t find a better guy.”
Batson will make his indoor season debut this weekend when Alabama travels to the Indiana Relays, competing in the 60-meter dash.
Last indoor season, his first with the Crimson Tide, Batson placed fourth in the SEC 200 (20.81) and eighth in the NCAA (20.97).
Outdoors, he won the SEC 100 meters and placed fourth in the NCAA with a personal-best 10.01. Track & Field News magazine ranked Batson No. 8 in the nation for 2013, a ranking that includes post-collegiate athletes.
In addition to All-America honors in the 100, he netted the same by running second leg on the Tide’s second-place 4-x-100 relay. The relay time of 38.54 set a school record, which is what he has his sights set on in individual events this season.
“Our early season goals, when we talked about things in the fall, were definitely that we wanted to put our name in the record books,” Kane said. “To do that, you’ve got to run 9.9 and you’ve got to go at 19.9. And if you do those types of things, you’re generally the national champion.”
Calvin Smith set both school records in 1983. Smith ran a then-world record 9.93 in the 100. In the 200, an event he twice won in the World Championships, Smith went 19.99.
Batson says he has learned plenty since coming to Alabama.
“Tons. It’s all about angles, technique,” he said. “I’ve just learned a tremendous amount of technique.
“My start is way more complete. I’m more consistent. It’s way easier for me to hit my positions, like my drive phase is way smoother.”
He also gained experience last summer, when he competed in Monaco on the USA 4-x-100 relay.
Kane says that Batson’s football background has served him well.
“He’s very aggressive and he’s used to having to make adjustments and a lot of things like that,” Kane said, “which really helps with what we’ve been trying to get him to do on the track.”
Still a relative babe in his track career, Batson’s upside is huge.
“He’s got a tremendous amount of growth potential because of his size and then also because he is new – he’s been running track, but he hasn’t really been running track full-time,” Kane said. “So getting to develop him over a full season has really been exciting. Because we can tap into a lot more things because he’s got more strength.”
Season two as a serious track man begins this weekend.