EDWARDSVILLE - Senior track sprinter Brandon Battle is one of the hardest workers on the boys team at Edwardsville High School, and recently, Battle signed a letter of intent to attend Eastern Illinois University in Charleston in a ceremony at the high school.

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Battle, who runs the 100, 200 and 400 meters for the Tigers, will be joining a very good Panther team and head coach Brenton Emanuel, and won the Ohio Valley Conference outdoor championship in 2019.

For his efforts on the track, Battle has been named the Tigers' Riverbender.com male Athlete of the Month for January, 2021.

Getting to know the coaches and athletes on the Panthers, as well as a former Tiger runner who now runs for Eastern, was one of the main reasons why Battle decided to go to the school.

"It was really just getting to know the coaches and teams," Battle said during an interview that followed the ceremony. "Of course, Franky Romano ran here; he's also currently running at Eastern Illinois, and just being on the campus, getting to know my future professors, and just being there in general feels just like it was home to me. The atmosphere's amazing."

Another factor was that O'Brien Stadium is the longtime home of the Illinois High School Association's state track meets, and the familiarity with the stadium was a big plus for Battle.

"I love the stadium, I love the what we call The Big Blue Track," Battle said, "and they run state there for a reason. And it's just an amazing track. I love it."

The closeness to Edwardsville also played a factor in Battle's decision.

"Yes, sir, it was a big factor," Battle said. "Only two hours, so if I feel like coming back home on the weekend, I can just leave Friday night, go back to Eastern like Sunday evening. It's not that far, just two hours, so that's fine."

Battle plans on majoring in sports medicine at Eastern, and the fact that he got to know his professors on a personal level played a role also.

"It's like getting to know them personally," Battle said, "because there's athletes that major in that as well, so just them being able to connect with those athletes as well, and helping them make careers after college and stuff. Getting to know them a little more helped me make my decision."

Tigers head coach Chad Lakatos is very happy for Battle, and knows that Eastern is getting a very good runner and student as well.

"Yeah, for sure," Lakatos said. "I'm super happy for Brandon and his family. A lot of hard work and dedication on Brandon's part, with everything that's going through our current situation. But I think good things happen to good people, and Eastern's getting a great one."

Lakatos believes that the Panthers will have many options for Battle in their lineup, both in sprint and relay races.'

'"I think they're going to have some options with Brandon," Lakatos said. "I think that, obviously for us, he's a short distance guy, a (100, 200 and 400 meter) sprinter. But I've told Brandon before that don't be surprised if he moves up, and is a 4A. He probably doesn't like the sounds of that. However, if his overall speed, pure speed improves, I can see him definitely being a 2-4 guy for Eastern, jumping in relays and playing a big role for them in their (open relays). But we'll just see how things develop for him, but he definitely has some options."

Battle is a very dedicated athlete, who worked out on his own during the recent Holiday break. His hard work is a big part of his success for the Tigers.

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"Most definitely," Lakatos said. "There's a handful of kids that I've been here in the last 13 years that fit the mold of hard work, dedication and work ethic, and all that goes together. Also, he gets it done in the classroom as well. Brandon, with that drive and focus, he's able to be a very well-rounded student-athlete."

His choice of majoring in sports medicine also makes Lakatos very happy as well.

"He definitely enjoys sports, and loves being around it," Lakatos said, "and just being a student of what we do. And that doesn't surprise me that's something he wants to go into, and I think he'll be successful in that. There's no doubt in my mind with the drive that he has."

Battle also considered Illinois State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Indiana State, SIU-Carbondale and Missouri, and has set some ambitious goals for his time at Eastern.

"My goal is to go there, All-American for sure," Battle said. "Freshman year, just try to get there, set a name for myself. Knowing the program, I just see the country is definitely all around, it's just overcoming top competition in school. All-American, pretty much in the 400, whatever they need me to do, and help the team as much as possible."

Battle plans on focusing on the both the 200 and 400 meters, working on his speed, and also on the 4x200 and 4x400 meter relays as well. And he does have a favorite memory of running for the Tigers.

"I'd probably have to say running at state in both freshman and sophomore year," Battle said with a smile after pondering the question for a few moments. "But there's so many great memories I've had here. Those two together, because that's state."

Lakatos had a very special memory of Battle's time with the team.

"I don't want to think of the negative, because I did lose a season with him last year," Lakatos said with a smile and laugh, "but just the excitement when he broke 50 (seconds in the 400 meters). I think it was at Collinsville when he first broke 50, and just to see the glow and smile on his face, and that is something I'll never forget. It was special."

Both Lakatos and Battle are very hopeful that the 2021 season will come off as planned, especially after the IHSA eventually cancelled the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I really think that our sport is a low-risk sport, I really think that we are going to have some kind of modified season," Lakatos said. "What that's going to look like, I don't know yet. Will be have a state meet? I don't know that either. But, especially for these seniors, if we can have some kind of invites, if we can have some kind of modified invitationals, if we have some modified state meet. The old saying is 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone.' When the kids had their season taken away from them last year, some of them really appreciated the fact that competition does special things. So I hope the kids are able to compete somehow, someway."

Lakatos is very hopeful of having a season this spring or summer.

"Yep, just a few prayers, and it's out of our control," Lakatos said, "and hopefully, they'll make the right decision for our student-athletes."

For Battle's part he's looking forward to competing for the Panthers and earning his degree. And he also thanked the Tigers' coaching staff for their help.

"As I said, I just love competing here at Edwardsville," Battle said. "Coach Lakatos, and coach (Alec) Holler, coach (George Patrylak), all those guys are the greatest coaches I could ever ask for, so I just thank them for bringing me in here. It's been an amazing four years here, and I can't wait to finish off this spring."

Riverbender.com's Athlete of the Month program is made possible by the generosity of our sponsors and the cooperation of our area high schools. This is a great honor and one to be very proud of. Please join us in congratulating this young athlete. We at Riverbender.com wish you continued success in your future!