- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

New Orleans and its Saints have added new chapters to their colorful histories since Hurricane Katrina struck more than four years ago. Perhaps not as dramatically but just as steadily, so has Washington Redskins offensive lineman D’Anthony Batiste.

A reserve, Batiste is expected to be in uniform Sunday when the Saints try to remain unbeaten against the Redskins at FedEx Field. He might not play much, but that’s of little consequence.

Once he used to chase and catch bad guys. Now he has chased and caught his dream.

“I’m definitely a journeyman,” he said. “And I’ve found a home here with the Redskins.”

In the wake of Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast in August 2005, Batiste was working for the Lafayette (La.) Parish Sheriff’s Office assisting the homeless and the dispossessed. With his football life on hold, this was real life.

“It was people who were displaced by the storm and just were in shambles,” he said. “It was like being rejected by their city.”

Among the displaced were the Saints. They vacated the Superdome and played their home games in Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio. It was yet another bizarre occurrence for a team that has suffered more downs than ups since entering the NFL in 1967, a team whose fans were the first to wear paper bags over their heads out of frustration.

The Saints went 3-13 amid the chaos, which included team owner Tom Benson toying with moving the team to San Antonio. But the Saints stayed put, hired Sean Payton as coach and turned things around. Now here they are, restored, rejuvenated and 11-0, favored to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

Batiste’s career arc hasn’t quite mirrored the Saints’ success, but he also has come a long way. Undrafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette, his football resume includes a half-season with an Arena 2 outfit called the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings and stays of various lengths in Canada, Dallas, Atlanta, Carolina and now Washington.

“I took a long road to get here,” he said. “A very long road.”

During a lull in his football career in 2004, Batiste became the father of twins and needed a steady income.

“I had to make a decision: if I was gonna still pursue my dream,” he said, meaning football, “or if I was gonna step up to the plate and be a man.”

A criminal justice major, Batiste began working as a sheriff’s deputy.

“I was there on the streets, working with a lot of juveniles, working with a lot of troubled cases, chasing down criminals,” he said. “I mean, foot chase, drug busts - the whole nine yards.”

Foot chase? “I didn’t lose one,” he said proudly.

Befitting his position, Batiste is an extremely large man, listed at 6-foot-4 and 314 pounds. But he was much slimmer back then, weighing a svelte 270. He used to play tight end. “I could run a little,” he said.

After Katrina (and later Hurricane Rita), thousands of evacuees were sent all over the map, including Lafayette, located about 135 miles west of New Orleans. For 60 days, about 18,500 were housed at various times in the Cajundome, a large, multipurpose arena where the university’s basketball teams play.

“It was pretty devastating times,” Batiste said. “My job was making sure that everybody was secure, that there were no riots going on as far as being fed, being clothed. Just me keeping order inside. And I kept the order for the most part. We made sure they were comfortable, not feeling like they were displaced.”

Cajundome director Greg Davis said several people on the buses were dead when they arrived, and many others needed immediate medical treatment. When the local hospital filled up, makeshift facilities were built.

“It was amazing to me that we had people coming to us like this a week into the damn thing,” Davis said. “And this is the United States of America. My God, what the hell were we doing in this country a week into this - and they’re still coming here in this condition?”

Said Batiste: “A lot of these people, they were distraught. They lost their homes. Some of them lost their kids and their parents and their husbands. It was a very intense situation. They’re so displaced, and all they have was this cot and this meal in their hands. Some of them felt they didn’t have anything to live for.”

Many of those who ended up in Lafayette came from impoverished areas like New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.

“It wasn’t like we were getting the best of society,” Batiste said.

Shortly thereafter, Batiste resumed his football odyssey. He eventually wants to return to law enforcement at the federal level, he said, perhaps with the FBI or even the CIA. But right now he is focused on his job with the Redskins, which has produced mixed results.

When tackle Chris Samuels suffered a potentially career-ending neck injury Oct. 11 at Carolina, Batiste, who started four games for Atlanta in 2007 and signed with the Redskins in December, came in. A guard by trade, he performed well at times. But he also allowed an early sack to rookie Everette Brown, was called for holding (it was declined) and drew a 5-yard penalty for lining up illegally.

That last mistake was huge. It wiped out a 12-yard completion on third-and-11 in the third quarter, a key play in the Redskins’ 20-17 loss. On the sideline, offensive line coach Joe Bugel screamed at Batiste, who has seen limited action since.

But Batiste dwelled only on the positive. He has dealt with worse.

“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” he said. “It gave me a chance to show a team that they can depend on me whenever it’s crunch time. I mean, nobody expected Chris Samuels to go down, but whenever things happen, we have to jump in and do our job. I got in there and fought hard.”

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