Patrick Tatum grew up in the small town of Sylvania in the northeast corner of Alabama. He spent the summer after his senior year at Sylvania High School baling hay on his father's ranch in anticipation of starting college at Jacksonville State in August.
He had once hoped to attend college at Auburn, but as time for college grew closer and closer it became more of a realization that it wasn't going to happen.
"They had been sending me a lot of letters my junior year," Tatum says of Auburn. "And then my senior year I think they found out about Wes (Byrum) and obviously liked him a little better. That's when I started opening my options again to other schools. Jacksonville State started coming in and I really liked it there. They were super nice to me at Jacksonville so that's where I was going to go."
However, just a few days before that was supposed to happen Tatum received a phone call from Auburn special teams coach Eddie Gran.
"He called me and he was like, ‘Is this Patrick Tatum?' I said yeah and he was like, ‘This is Coach Gran from Auburn University.' He asked if I had signed any papers to go to Jacksonville and I hadn't. He asked if I had attended a class and I said no. That's when he told me that Auburn needs another punter."
His dream was becoming reality, and Tatum says he was just fortunate at that point to have talked to Gran.
"That's something I'll never forget," he says of Gran's call. "It's just like your first bicycle ride. It's something you'll never forget. When I got it, my brother thought it was an Army recruiter because it was a weird number. But he was just like, ‘Patrick's here so I might as well let you talk to him.' It ended up being Coach Gran and my stomach dropped big-time. When an Auburn coach calls you, you really don't know what to think. My speech was kind of quick and I sputtered."
Everything was happening so fast and Tatum was faced with a life-altering decision.
"It was right at the end of July," he notes, "almost the beginning of August--like July 30."
And Auburn was set to begin fall practice on August 2.
"I told (Gran) about my situation at Jacksonville and they had been real nice to me and how they expected me to come," Tatum says. "I talked to my dad and my mom and they just said, ‘It's your future.' I kind of felt bad leaving Jacksonville because they were so nice to me. I didn't want to go through life thinking, ‘What if I hadn't gone to Auburn?' It would have driven me crazy."
Auburn lost its top two punters from the 2006 team but redshirted Ryan Shoemaker, a scholarship punter from Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham. He was expected to be the replacement for Kody Bliss, but Tatum gave Shoemaker a run for his money during two-a-days.
Shoemaker won the job and was the punter in game one against Kansas State. However, in game two against South Florida he dislocated his elbow covering a punt in the first quarter. Just as Gran had planned for, he needed a solid second-string punter.
"I kind of knew it when I saw his arm mangled up," Tatum notes. "Coach Gran came over to me and said, ‘Go get loosened up. You're fixing to go in.' That's when I started shaking. I was pretty nervous."
It wasn't the ideal situation for getting playing time, but it's how it worked out for Tatum.
His first collegiate punt was on national television and was downed at the one-yard line.
"That's what you intend to do, but it's just kind of weird it happened that way," he jokes.
He has averaged 40 yards per punt on seven attempts so far this season, and the support from back home in Sylvania has been tremendous for the true freshman.
"When I went in two weeks ago I had 38 voicemails," Tatum says. "There have been some people sending some letters telling how proud they are of me. I'm really, really glad and thankful to God that I actually got to go in and play. It's really been amazing, especially from where I'm from because there are only a couple of people that will play college football and some of them won't start. It's been fun to get a start and get to play."
The timeline for Shoemakers' healthy return is still uncertain, so Tatum will still be counted on in the upcoming weeks. And fortunately for him, the nervousness of playing in front of 80,000-plus people and a television audience is gone.
"When I went in two weeks ago... the stadium is so big and it looks like people painted the bleachers different colors because there are so many people. This week (against Mississippi State) I wasn't near as nervous as I thought I'd been. It was kind of like just going out there and doing it and not thinking about it."
Even though he's only been on the field for seven plays, it's been well worth the journey and the destination, he says. "Ever since I was little bitty I dreamed of playing football at Auburn. My dad graduated from Auburn and my mom has always been an Auburn fan, so it just runs in the family to be an Auburn fan. It's really a dream come true to play here."