Battle back

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Cornerback Dominique Battle saw his season ended with a knee injury in September, but returned to practice this spring with a renewed sense of what playing football means to him.


CINCINNATI - Dominique Battle heard the phrase many times. Like so many clichés, it floated in one ear and out the other.


Until, during one unfortunate Saturday in September at Paul Brown Stadium, the cliché slammed him square in the left knee.


"You got to play every play like it is your last, for real," Battle said. "I hear a lot of people say it. I never quite understood it."


The cliché never made sense, because it never hit home for the soon-to-be-senior cornerback. A minor ankle sprain his sophomore season was the only physical setback to sideline him in two years of play.


A healthy, athletic body lifted him to the position where he started 12 of 13 games at corner the 2009 team that went a perfect 12-0 and played in the Sugar Bowl. He returned as one of the few returning pieces of a unit without a senior starter.


Then, in one instant he went from saving a touchdown on kickoff coverage to wondering when he'd be able to play again. Battle stood up limping after making the tackle and felt the pain inside the knee. He thought something was wrong. When he tried to cut and the knee didn't respond, he knew something was.


He arrived at the doctor days later expecting to hear he needed a few weeks away. The news didn't cooperate with his expectations. He tore his LCL and MCL. It would require surgery. The full rehab would take 6-9 months. His season was done.


"Going in I am thinking I am about to miss three games of the season," Battle said. "Then to find out you are having surgery and done for the year -- it really hurt."


The pain stung worse as Big East teams began lighting up the scoreboard. In conference games, UC allowed at least 27 points and gave up an average of 34.


Where the secondary needed an experienced starter to lean in during tough times, Battle could only lean on his crutches. 


"I was supposed to be the vet coming back," said Battle, whose starting spot was handed over to Cammeron Cheatham. "Cheat came in and took over, he progressed nicely during the season, now he is probably one of the best cover corners on the team. I was proud of them, but it was tough watching my team go out there every day."


Six months following his injury against Oklahoma, the first real taste of relief arrived for Battle. Hours upon hours of rehab finally delivered a reward.


When spring practice opened, Dominique Battle rejoined his teammates on the field. Battle hasn't been fully cleared yet. He still wears a knee brace and green jersey limiting his contact. But he's out there. That fact means more than ever before when the ability to cross the thick white line has been revoked.


"My motivation was treatment and getting in the weight room and getting back on this green," Battle said. "(Returning) felt good."


The good vibes flowed up to Butch Jones, who sees Battle's return adding to his favorite component of building a football program: Competition.


Battle jumps into the mix with a contingent of young players who developed while filling in for him. Cheatham, Reuben Johnson, Devan Drane and Adrian Witty, among others, fall into the mix for the starting spots.


"The experience he brings to the table is invaluable; also the overall competition that is going on in the back end is another piece to that puzzle," Jones said. "It elevates everyone else's game."


No starting spot is guaranteed for Battle, but considering the journey, being part of the game again became more than enough.


"The first practice was hyped," Battle said. "Eventually I'll get out of the green jersey. I am taking it slow right now."

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