08/06/2018 1:11 AM
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DJ Batton could have easily been a one-and-done at the Warrior All-America Games.
The Team 91 Carolina and Apex 2021 attackman was one of the best players at the inaugural games in 2017 at UMass, putting on a show as one of the best players in the country in the '21 division. He didn't have much left to prove, so no one would have blamed him if he decided to stay home and use the weekend to rest.
Except for Batton, there was zero chance of that happening.
"I loved the competition there, and the atmosphere made me want to come back and do it again," Batton said. "The competitiveness and the overall structure of the tournament, I hadn't played in anything like it. I've done a lot of events, but nothing had the same environment and atmosphere that Warrior did. You're playing against some of the best players in the country and you get a good look at yourself, plus, in my mind, it's a huge deal to represent your region."
The chance to continue to help put the South on the lacrosse map is a strong draw for Batton. He's keenly aware of the perception that the traditional hotbeds are miles ahead of other areas in the country, but he doesn't quite buy into the idea that the gap is that wide. Far from it, actually.
"You never want to let your region down and you want to represent where you're from, especially in the South," said Batton, who emerged as a starter for Apex midway through the spring. "We're on the uprising in the lacrosse community and the South is starting to become as good as the other areas."
Once again, Batton was one of the best players at the event, earning All-American honors for the second straight year. At 5-9, 160 pounds, he's not likely to bully his way past defenders, but he's got agility, change-of-direction skills, speed and an excellent stick, and he's a well-rounded attackman. He would have liked to see the South do a little bit better as a team, though, and that, not individual attention, was his biggest priority.
"It's not the first thing I think of, because I really try to put the team perspective in front," Batton explained.
There's great lacrosse at the Warrior All-America Games, but it's also a great way to meet new people from across the country and forge friendships with people that you might not normally come across. That was the case for Batton, and something that he hopes to continue doing as the event progresses.
"I met a lot of different people from the South, and I actually have some really good friends on Long Island. One of my best friends is actually someone that I met here last year," Batton said. "It's pretty awesome."
Batton also understands that if he's going to continue to shine as one of the class of 2021's best, he's going to have to continue to play against the best competition in the country. He'll be back on Team 91 Carolina this year, and the recent acquisition of Team 919 only serves to bolster the program. He sees the effect that playing against the best has had, and the way it sees it, more players will benefit from an increased focus on competition and training.
"Playing a high level of club ball and doing events like Warrior give an advantage to the people who do that," Batton said. "Playing against higher-level competition really did help me, both for club and this spring. I played midfield to start and then had two goals and two assists against (state runner-up) Middle Creek, which was probably the best game I've ever played. I started the next game attack, and since then, I've been a starting attackman."
You don't get there without seeing how you stack up against the best.