By Christy Cabrera Chirinos for Sun Sentinel

CORAL GABLES — James Coley has encountered plenty of interesting situations on the recruiting trail.

But this past spring, the Hurricanes offensive coordinator found himself in a unique spot when an assistant high school football coach introduced himself – and said he wanted to play at Miami.

After that, it didn’t take long for former Dwyer High standout Gage Batten to send Coley the game film from his time at Auburn. And after Miami’s coaches saw him play, they gave him an opportunity.

And Batten didn’t disappoint, making a quick impression on the Hurricanes with his poise and experience making him an immediate asset in the locker room. In training camp, the walk-on proved himself worthy of a spot on Miami’s depth chart where he’s now listed as the starting fullback ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Bethune-Cookman.

“I’m just extremely blessed. I grew up a Miami Hurricanes fan. I’m from Palm Beach Gardens, just right up the road,” the 6-foot, 235-pound Batten said. “I played little league games in the Orange Bowl. I used to go to games in the Orange Bowl. So to start for the University of Miami is a true blessing. It’s a dream come true for me.”

As excited as he is to begin his Hurricanes career, Batten’s journey to Coral Gables hasn’t been easy.

Though he was a first-team All-County linebacker at King’s Academy before transferring to Dwyer, no major program came through with an offer on National Signing Day back in 2012.

Eventually, he landed at Auburn as a walk-on, redshirting his first season. He was later moved to offense where he played behind Houston Texans fullback Jay Prosch during Auburn’s run to an SEC title and the 2013 national championship game.

Batten hoped for a bigger role at Auburn last season, but he tore his ACL in camp and was sidelined for the year. Before long, a personal family issue brought him back to South Florida where he reconnected with Jack Daniels, his former coach at Dwyer. Not knowing where his football career would next take him, he joined the Panthers’ coaching staff and there, he met with Coley.

He also learned plenty about the game during his time working with high school players. Now, the Hurricanes hope his expertise and ability to lead will help their relatively young roster.

Daniels has no doubt that’s exactly what will happen over the course of Batten’s career at Miami.

“He’s one of the smartest, if not the smartest kid I’ve ever coached,” said Daniels of Batten. “He probably installed three-fourths of our offense this spring. We tried to do a lot of stuff Auburn did and it just flowed out of him. We got some of our best plays in the spring from Gage.”

Added Miami coach Al Golden, “Just a great story. Very fortunate to have him here. It really gives us tremendous fabric in our locker room. Just great DNA.”

It’s not just his coaches and teammates that have been impressed with Batten’s work ethic.

While at King’s Academy, the young athlete made an impact on former Dolphins and Saints fullback Heath Evans, who noticed Batten while the then-ninth grader was playing basketball. Evans introduced himself to Batten’s parents and jokingly told them that while he wasn’t sure if their son had a future in basketball, if he wanted to improve on the football field, Evans was willing to help train Batten.

Years later, the two remain close with Evans now looking forward to seeing what Batten can do for the Hurricanes, whether it’s at fullback or the linebacker position he played in high school.

“The truth is, if they would have let him compete at middle linebacker, he would have been the starting middle linebacker too,” Evans said. “He’s the most mentally tough amateur athlete I’ve ever been around. He’s smart, tough and he knows his weaknesses, which makes him a very dangerous player. … I’m not surprised at all he won a starting job. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s always meaningful. His intellect and his leadership will pay dividends over the course of the next couple years for the Miami Hurricanes.”

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