San Francisco, CA (UHND) — Arnaz Battle began his journey to the NFL on a December weekend in 1997 on a recruiting visit to Notre Dame. It wasn’t his only official visit, but it was the only one he needed to know that he wanted to play college football under the Golden Dome. Recruited as a quarterback, by then coach Bob Davie, Battle’s path to the NFL took a couple detours.
As he enters his 3rd season with the San Francisco 49ers, Battle will be moving into a starting role, but not as quarterback as he had been recruited by Davie, but as their starting wide receiver — the “Z” receiver to be exact. You may have heard of some of the other “Z” wide receivers in Niners history. Jerry Rice? Terrell Owens? Dwight Clark? All are former “Z” receivers in San Francisco.
Battle joins some pretty impressive company considering he didn’t make the switch to wide receiver until his senior year at Notre Dame and only had 5 catches for 40 yards prior to his 5th year. In his 5th year however, he established himself as a receiver with 58 catches for 786 yards and 5 touchdowns catching passes from guys named Holiday and Dillingham.
A product of Bob Davie’s inability to form an offensive identity at Notre Dame, Battle merely began to tap into his potential at Notre Dame. Battle was recruited as an option style quarterback by Davie and given the #3 — a number every Notre Dame fan knows the significance of. Fans had visions of another Donovan McNabb in the making when Kevin Rogers joined the Irish staff in 1999, but an injury two games into his tenure as starting quarterback derailed Battle’s roller coaster ride at quarterback.
Fresh off an impressive performance against defending national champion Nebraska, the Notre Dame community learned Battle had broken his wrist and would miss the rest of the 2000 season. Against the Cornhuskers, Battle used his legs to help bring the Irish to the verge of a monumental upset. Unfortunately, the Irish lost in overtime and in the process lost Battle for the year.
Arnaz would never line up again as the starting quarterback for the Irish. Instead a freshman by the name of Matt Lovecchio would emerge as the starter that year and Battle moved to wide receiver. The injury bug again hit Arnaz in 2001 when he suffered a fractured fibula.
2002 saw the emergence of Arnaz Battle the wide receiver. He completed his transition from former quarterback to wide receiver after taking a quick pass from Pat Dillingham 60 yards for the go ahead touchdown against Michigan State in Notre Dame’s 4th game of the season.
Battle ended up being the team’s leading receiver and the 49ers took a chance on the converted quarterback with a 6th round draft pick.
Much like he did at Notre Dame in his final season, Battle will enter this year as the 49ers starting receiver with only 8 receptions for 143 yards. Modest numbers for a guy taking over a position once held by the greatest wide receiver who’s ever played — Jerry Rice, and a guy who thinks he’s the greatest wide receiver to ever play — Terrell Owens.
Despite his lack of gaudy stats, Arnaz has shown the play making ability that he displayed for the Irish in 2002. Last season he was involved with the 49ers longest play from scrimmage, a 65 yard pass from Tim Rattay. Battle also returned 31 punts in 2004 including a 71 yarder for a touchdown.
Battle is backing up his promotion this preseason with two touchdowns in two preseason games. On Saturday night, Battle took a pass from Tim Rattay in for a 58 yard touchdown.
He’s come along way from the option quarterback who was recruited by Nebraska, Georgia, and Tennessee among other schools. He took a few detours on his way to the NFL and even had a few once he got there, but his persistence has paid off and when the first Sunday of the 2005 season rolls around 3 weeks from today, Battle will be lining up in San Francisco in the Z position when the St. Louis Rams come to town.
He no longer wear’s the famous #3 as had when he wore the blue and gold. Instead, he’s add an 8 to the equation for #83, but the talent that earned him #3 at Notre Dame remains and has now earned him a starting spot in the 49ers lineup.