When Mike Patrick’s career took off at Jefferson Pilot in the early 80s, college football worked much different than it does today.
“You can’t even compare the two time periods,” he laughed.
One of the areas that saw major change, thanks to the Internet, was the recruitment of student-athletes. With every prospect’s move being monitored, big schools were able to find the big fish – and quickly reel them in.
Patrick has noticed the effect first hand, especially when it comes to calling games in the Southeastern Conference.
“The big thing with recruiting is that guys don’t want to redshirt anymore,” he said. “The five-star type, the Julio Jones and A.J. Green guys, don’t want to go through that process. They have the feeling that they will be leaving after three years, and they don’t want to delay that.
“And, the top picks of your class are the guys that you want that production from,” he added. “You recruit that type of prospect to come in and play right away.”
With the number of recruits that become freshman impact players increasing, Patrick said that the south remains ground zero.
“When I go through my outlooks on teams, and we are talking SEC, I am looking at the best players available anywhere,” he said. “Outside of southern California, the south is the hottest recruiting bed there is. Everyone goes to Florida to get speed for defensive backs, and you see something like that with each state.
“You see a trend that you are not going to steal any kids from Alabama to go up to Michigan, but you might find a couple of Michigan kids get down to Alabama,” he added. “All those things are what keeps the SEC strong.”
How does the recruiting boom translate to Patrick’s work on Saturdays?
“A big thing is that with a freshman of big time impact, we are going to want to tell stories about his recruiting battles,” Patrick said. “Let’s say this certain guy grew up in Baton Rouge, but how did he get away from LSU? Or, we tell a story on how this team and this team went down to the wire for a recruit. It really fuels the listeners.
The continued early success of top-flight prospects, Patrick said, is what makes the college game increasingly tough to call.
“I sit down on Sunday and start my week with press releases from each team’s prior game, so that I can memorize the depth charts,” he said. “When I called NFL games, you would have repeats and guys did not turn over every three years. In college, you have 70 of 85 guys who could get onto the field at some point. You could kill yourself with all the material we have to go through.”
That is what makes trips to Baton Rouge all the more appealing.
“Calling an LSU game is a blessing, because you get a couple games in a year,” Patrick said. “It really helps because players stick in your mind, and then you call that same player’s games over the next few years, and you can begin building stories on him.”
Of course, just being in the booth in Tiger Stadium is enough to put a smile on Patrick’s face.
“Anyone who loves college football should go to Tiger Stadium for just one game,” he said. “Whether it be a huge game or not, you just have to make it to a game. Saturday night in Baton Rouge, there is nothing like it.
“The noise is what gets you,” he added. “Bear Bryant said that it is like being inside a drum, and it is. The pounding is nonstop. To just walk in on Saturday night and see a crazy crowd of people who have been getting ready since 10 a.m., it is unbelievable.”
The toughest part of being in the booth, no matter the venue, is remaining non-bias in the booth.
“I am a West Virginia man at heart, but I root for schools that I grew to like over the years, whether it be because of relationships I have built with players or a coaching staff,” he said. “It is odd not to cheer, but that is the big sacrifice you have to make in terms of being a fan of the game.”
When he gets home, however, Patrick’s actions fall in line with most sports loyalists.
“I throw stuff, living and breathing on every call from a referee or bad break,” he laughed. “I am really bad when it comes to West Virginia football, screaming and getting disappointed all the time. I live and die with that school as a fan, and the hardest games I have done are ones where they were involved.”
On Sep. 25, 2010, Patrick could find himself calling quite the storyline game – Saturday night in Death Valley between West Virginia and LSU.