Years later, that time spent tossing the football around in the back yard is paying off for a pair of seniors on the Greenwood football team.

Conner Battinau and Seth Gallman used to fling the pigskin to one another as fifth-graders. This fall, Battinau has become Gallman’s favorite target and the most prolific pass-catching tight end in the area.

A second-year starter, Battinau was utilized primarily as a run blocker early in his junior season. But he started to display his full skill set in a Week 9 victory at Whiteland, catching four passes for 48 yards, and he added touchdown grabs against Frankfort and Roncalli in sectional play.

Despite the late-season uptick in production, Battinau finished the 2016 campaign with just 13 catches for 180 yards. But Woodmen coach Mike Campbell saw the potential for much more.

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“He really started showing great promise at the end of last year,” Campbell said. “We knew his skill set; he just had to grow into his body, and it really took shape for him last year.”

That momentum has carried over into this season.

Battinau opened the season by catching eight passes, two for touchdowns, in the season opener against Perry Meridian. By the end of Week 3, he already had matched his reception total of a year ago.

He hauled in three Gallman touchdown passes against Mooresville on Sept. 8, and added five more receptions and a touchdown against Paoli last week. Heading into Friday’s game at Franklin, Battinau has 26 catches for 309 yards and six scores.

Battinau has gained 20 pounds since last year, but at 205 he’s still a bit on the lean side for a tight end. However, his combination of length and athleticism — he’s also a reserve forward on the Greenwood basketball team — makes him a difficult matchup for opposing defenses.

“When (defensive backs) are guarding me, I think being 6-5 is a big help,” Battinau said. “Even linebackers — I think I’m faster than most linebackers, so it’s a mismatch both ways.”

And despite the weight he gives away to most defensive linemen, the senior is just as effective on run plays, helping to pave the way for Brandon Rosado and the other members of the Greenwood backfield.

“He’s a devastating blocker,” Campbell said. “You watch him on film, he is a fantastic blocker in space. He’s a great down blocker. He’s a very physical kid, moves his feet well, understands leverage — and he’s got long levers to kind of control guys.”

The Woodmen have traditionally done well on the ground, though. Part of what makes this year’s team more of a threat in Class 4A this season is an improved ability to spread the field with the pass, and Battinau has become a central part of the game plan.

His longtime rapport with Gallman certainly helps — “There’s a familiarity and a trust there,” Campbell said — but Battinau also has put in plenty of work to improve his individual skills and make himself a more viable weapon.

“I became a better route-runner,” Battinau said. “I read defenses better than I did last year; I think that’s a big part of it.”

Even in games where Battinau isn’t putting up big numbers, the threat he poses as a receiver helps open avenues for his teammates. The 5-1 Woodmen are scoring 38 points a game this season after averaging 25.8 a year ago.

“When you have a tight end that can work the middle,” Campbell said, “that keeps safeties playing back or it keeps linebackers from being able to cheat up. So there’s a lot of great things we can do with that.”

By the numbers

Greenwood tight end Conner Battinau has already surpassed his 2016 receiving numbers (13 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns). A game-by-game look at his production this year:

Opponent;Rec;Yds;TD

Perry Meridian;8;76;2

Indian Creek;1;14;0

Martinsville;4;64;0

Mooresville;4;54;3

Plainfield;2;24;0

Paoli;5;59;1

Decatur Central;2;18;0

Totals;26;309;6

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.