Two American River College track and field athletes have accepted full scholarship offers to the University of Alabama.
Diondre Batson, who represented ARC in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200-meters, and Matt Airola, the state champion in the 1,500, will both compete for the Crimson Tide this coming indoor season beginning in January.
“I am really happy,” Airola said. Batson added, “The campus (at Alabama) was something you just can’t say no to.”
When new Alabama track and field coach Dan Waters was on campus at ARC recruiting Batson, he found out that Airola had not signed with another school.
“They asked if (Airola) was still here, and I said ‘yes, he is his fourth semester here,’” ARC head track and field coach Rick Anderson said. “The head coach told him right there that he would give him full ride.”
Airola signed his letter of intent in Anderson’s office on Oct. 22.
Batson, following the Beavers 56-49 victory in a football game against Modesto Junior College on Oct. 27, still in uniform after leading ARC with 120 yards receiving and two touchdowns, stood on the track to sign his letter, with his mom standing nearby wearing an Alabama sweatshirt on.
“I felt like I was at home and at home at the same time,” Batson said about signing on the track while in uniform for football.
He will not play football for the Crimson Tide, but will earn his degree as a deal with his mom.
“The only reason I didn’t go pro (in track) was because she wanted me get my degree,” Batson said. “I feel like I have a brighter future in track than football.”
As a standout on the football and track team at Laguna Creek High School, Batson came to ARC to play football, but in an agreement with his mom—a former track athlete at Oklahoma University—he joined the track team in 2010.
In a breakout season last spring, Batson won the state title in both the 100 and the 200 on May 19. A month later, he participated in the Olympic Trials in June, but fell short of the Olympic team.
Airola, a 2010 graduate of Bret Harte High School in Angel’s Camp joined the Beavers with little fanfare.
“His times were good in high school, but not mind-blowing,” Anderson said. “He has just gotten better and better every semester.”
But after helping the Beavers win the state championship in 2011, Airola won the state title in the 1,500 and finished second in the 800 at the meet in May.
“He is one of those rare special athletes that you get once in a life time,” Anderson said. “But I am lucky enough to have a few. Him, Diondre… Guys like that just stand out ahead of everybody else.”
A third member of the 2012 track team, Josh Gruver, has accepted a roster spot at Alabama, but not on full-ride scholarship.
Airola said he would compete for Alabama for the indoor track season in January.
“My first goal is to break four minutes in the mile during indoors,” Airola said. “I focus on indoors to get adjusted to (Division I).”
Batson’s goal for this season is a bit loftier.
“I want to win an NCAA championship,” Batson said. “It’s realistic. I can do it. I don’t like losing.”