Ramsay High School football coach Ronnie Jackson knew that Caleb Patterson made a special play in the final seconds of the improbable ending to his team’s 21-14 victory over Pleasant Grove last Thursday night.
Asking him to describe that play, at least right after it happened, would have been a futile exercise. All that Jackson knew was that one of his star defensive players was sprinting toward the end zone to put an exclamation point on what was a game-long marvelous performance by the defense, against one of the most explosive offenses in the state.
“I definitely did not see that ball come out, I just saw him running down the field,” Jackson said with a chuckle.
At that point, his first instinct was to manage the chaos on the Ramsay sideline.
“I was like, ‘Let’s make sure we have everybody off the field,’” Jackson said. “I think we did get a flag because I think half of the team was in the end zone. They were just so excited.”
By Sunday night, Jackson knew everything about the play that went down officially as a sack, forced fumble, recovered fumble and 37-yard return for a touchdown. He can recite every detail of the play after watching it "10 to 15 times.”
The clock had ticked down to the final seconds when talented Pleasant Grove quarterback Eric Handley dropped back to pass. Patterson, lined up at left defensive end, spun away from the right tackle and immediately did another spin move to elude the running back. The second spin took him past Handley, but the Pleasant Grove quarterback was quickly grabbed by Ramsay defensive lineman Cam Carson. Patterson raced up, ripped the ball away and then turned to finish off the game-winning play.
“I was rushing the outside shoulder the whole game and realized [the tackle] was giving up the inside,” Patterson said. “I was like, 'This is the perfect time to do it. If I don’t do it here, we either lose the game or go into overtime.' I put a spin move on him and saw the running back there. It was just off instinct, the second one. It really wouldn’t have happened without my other lineman, Cam Carson, No. 30. I sped past him, and he stepped up in the pocket. Cam grabbed him and from that point on, I just realized I could get the ball loose. At that point, I just turned into a playmaker and grabbed the ball.”
The rest is a blur.
“As a kid, I always ran around the house and played out moments like that,” Patterson said. “When I crossed the goal line, it was like, ‘Did this really just happen?’ When I got to the sideline, I said, ‘What just happened?’"
End there and this is just a story about a great play in a critical region win. But this is also a story about what is good about high school football and, sometimes, bad about high school football recruiting. You see, Patterson is a playmaker. This wasn’t an isolated big play. He has a tendency to make things happen. However, he’s also a 5-foot-9, 210-pound defensive lineman with dreams of playing on Saturdays.
“I’ve been told that I’m too short to play at the next level,” Patterson said.
Obviously, there are countless examples of players ignoring similar chatter from college coaches and finding a way to prove them wrong. Troy’s Carlton Martial, for example, is a 5-foot-9 middle linebacker, who could become the NCAA’s all-time leading tackler by the end of the season. He began his career as a walk-on.
Will Patterson become the next story like this?
“I definitely think he can play at the next level, probably at linebacker,” Jackson said. “We have him at defensive end right now, but he’s such a strong kid with a motor. He’s relentless, he has all the intangibles.”
Obviously, the tape measure tells a different tale.
“That’s the thing where I look at some colleges and ask, ‘What are you looking for?’” Jackson said. “There might be a guy who has the intangibles. And, there might be a guy who is like 6-4, 6-3, but is he making plays? My biggest thing right now is, if I got a guy making plays and he’s all over the field, I want that guy. That’s who I want. I’m happy I got Caleb.”
Patterson said Faulkner University in Montgomery and St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, both of which play NAIA football, have extended scholarship offers. He’s not sure if any more offers will come, but he’s also not too worried about the situation.
“It doesn’t bother me too much, because I know that I’m a good player,” Patterson said. “I know there are guys out there who are shorter, and they feel like they can’t do something. My message to them is just because you’re short or small or whatever, as long as you put the work in, you can do anything. You can always do anything through Christ.”
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