Young Brandeis QB remains cool under pressure
When describing his team’s resolve, Brandeis coach David Branscom begins with 15-year-old sophomore quarterback Jordan Battles.
“He never has a bad day,” Branscom said. “He might have a bad practice, and he’s going to make mistakes, but it’s about how he processes it and plays the next play. He’s a great definition of our team overall. He’s not going to let any situation get him down too much.”
It’s the best way he can explain how a team that starts five sophomores and a freshman is on the verge of advancing to the regional finals.
“There’s that old coaching adage — every sophomore you play is a loss,” Branscom said. “I saw my depth chart, and I was counting them up.”
The Broncos have dispelled that notion this season. Brandeis (10-2) looks to get to the fourth round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when it faces Brownsville Hanna (10-1) in a Class 6A Division II semifinal at noon Saturday at the Alamodome.
Battles has been a big part of that. He’s completed 96 of 171 passes for 1,635 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for 1,452 yards and 19 touchdowns on 191 carries. He’s the area’s third-leading rusher in 6A. But his contribution runs deeper than the numbers.
“Jordan is an incredible athlete, but it’s not only his athleticism that carries him,” senior linebacker/running back Brent Malone said. “It’s also his leadership and his ability to not fall under pressure. He always stays strong. He always plays the game with his head and not just his body.”
Battles was Brandeis’ junior varsity quarterback last season. With Kyle Fitzgerald’s graduation, the Broncos’ starting quarterback spot was open. Battles and senior Brett Marthis were the leading candidates to fill that spot.
They split first-team reps in the spring. Branscom hoped to have a starter determined by the end of spring drills. When that didn’t happen, they carried over their competition to the fall. Battles learned he would be the starter the week they scrimmaged Judson right before the season.
“Brett pushed me to become better,” Battles said. “When he pushed me, I went out there every day and I executed and I paid attention in meetings. It was a good experience. It was fun.”
Branscom said Battles’ ability to extend plays is what earned him the starting nod.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because we had a senior who is one of the leaders on this team, but Jordan has done everything possible to put himself in position to be that guy,” Branscom said. “That includes all the outside things that don’t matter to how he spins the ball and how fast he runs.”
Battles said playing against Judson laid the foundation for the season. The Rockets, the only other area 6A team left in the playoffs, had the likes of defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal (committed to Texas A&M), linebacker Kevin Wood (North Texas) and defensive back Rashad Wisdom (UTSA).
“There was a lot of D-I experience on that field, and it pushed me to become a better athlete going up against those guys,” Battles said. “It taught me a lot of leadership skills. When our team is fighting adversity, as the quarterback, I can’t be the one to break down and make mental errors. I have to be locked in a focused the whole game.”
It wasn’t difficult to persuade his team that he was the one for the job.
“He has a personality that attracts people to him,” Branscom said. “You can move mountains with a leader like that.”
A victory over Hanna would send the Broncos to the state quarterfinals for the fourth time. Brandeis has never advanced past that round.
Branscom said he was unsure of his team’s prospects before the season. In his first season as head coach last year, the Broncos went 7-3 and didn’t make the playoffs. When most of that team graduated, Brandeis was left with a young team that had a lot of potential.
Battles’ emergence this season has helped. Most of the Broncos’ young players were Battles’ teammates on junior varsity a season ago.
“He helps them play more confidently because they see him play with so much pressure,” Branscom said.
Battles rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns in his varsity debut, a 35-17 victory over Johnson on Aug. 31. He rushed for a season-high 203 yards against Marshall two weeks later.
“He’s handled everything very well with his first-season starts and the playoffs,” Brandeis senior tight end Oscar Cardenas said. “He’s doing amazing. He’s been phenomenal.”
The Broncos have won six in a row since back-to-back losses to Brennan and O’Connor. Although those losses knocked them out of contention for the District 28-6A title, Battles said they ended up being a benefit.
“We were on a roll in the beginning of the season, and that taught us how (handle losses) and not underestimate anybody,” Battles said.
As the stakes get bigger, Battles can rely on his older teammates to help him stay focused.
“I think the biggest thing I do with Jordan is keep pressure (from) getting to him in big games,” Malone said. “Now that we’re in the third round, I remind him to keep his cool and play like he normally plays.”
That approach has worked so far.