An infatuation with numbers. A dream of awards, locally and nationwide. A thought of popularity and a little "face time" on TV. Or perhaps having five stars next to your name. You can call any of these probable goals for just about any prep athlete in the nation. Most any prep athlete except for a player like Nick Patton. You see, his ambition comes from a different source.
It's a source that gets him up every day by 6 in the A.M. It's a source that puts a clear horizon in front of him, eyes transfixed, mind convinced of where he wants to be. You see, he wants to be the first, but not the first in the county, state or even country. He wants to be the first in his family and it's not to achieve something with a football, but he uses football for his ultimate goal. "None of my family has ever made it to a big college." Nick said. "They've always gone to tiny schools and I want to be the first one out of my family to make it somewhere big and set an example for my little brothers to follow."
It can't be easy being a big brother as you will always look for any way you can to inspire your younger siblings. Whether it's to be better than you or follow your lead, you bear a responsibility that few can view with empathy. Add to this the burden of being a renowned prep athlete with the promise of that attention becoming even greater and you have increased the role from someone trying to inspire those close, while being scrutinized from anyone and everyone from afar.
With that rising popularity, the challenge to stay level-headed for so many reasons becomes even more apparent. Nick's found a way to be grounded however. "It's gotten crazy, especially around here." Nick said about the increasing attention towards him. "But, I can't worry about that, so I just do my workouts, stay at home and keep my head."
"I keep myself busy, because if I concentrate on what everyone is saying about me, I will get the big head, think I am the best and won't work out as hard and do the things I need to do to get better."
Being involved with so many things is an outlet of sorts for Nick. It does it's primary goal in helping him better himself athletically and academically as he concentrates on workouts and Summer school, but again, there's an ulterior motive that bolsters his resolve. To Nick, it's the entire reason he is even able to think about making it big one day. "My Grandpa is a big reason why I am even here and having a chance to do all this and my whole family really, if it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be here."
That is your heartfelt definition of "roots".
It's too cliche' though. It's almost ridiculous how so many stories undeserving have been given such attention that it minimizes the real stories that do truly inspire others, not just within a family circle. Nick's had battles of his own, not the least of which was the reason for being a student at the school he now attends. "At my old school, they didn't care about grades." Nick said. "All they wanted was for you to play football and didn't care if you went to class. I had to get out of that situation, because I knew I wasn't going anywhere."
That transfer from his old school to his current one could almost now be considered a metaphor for his change in goals as well. While old influences taught him to think of what he had to give as an athlete, new influences and of course, those constant within his family have reinforced those beliefs that there's more to everything than just yards, touchdowns and wins. "I want to be at the top of my class." Nick said of his new goals. "I want to raise my grades and I want to help make my team better on the field."
"I want to get better, but more than anything, I want to make my team better."
Without recalling records and stats, Nick can summarize his team's performance last year in a way that further illustrates what kind of young man you are dealing with, as he didn't look at the disappointments in terms of stats, rather in regards to attitude overall. "We didn't have any fun last year." he said. "Everyone was so up-tight and nobody was having any fun at all."
"This year, well, I grew up with a lot of these guys and I know them and I think we will be better, but I know we will have a lot more fun and I will do my best to keep it like that."
While Nick's ability would seem to make him the obvious leader of the team, it's not that ability that makes him a continuing inspiration, this time to his team. It's a role that he takes as serious as any other and assumes with earnest. "I am a very vocal leader and I am a very "by example" kind of guy." Nick said. "I don't get on guys, but if I think they need it, I just run a kick back for a touchdown or just do something and then, I say ‘that's how we need to get it done'.
"I'll get on them, but it's only because I want to make everyone around me better."
Though his team is expected to be better, at least in local regards, the expectations to be better are certain when it comes to Patton himself. He's being featured as an "Elite 11" type prospect, has a reported 15 offers and counting from schools like Florida, Nebraska, Kansas State, Michigan and Tennessee. He's also got recruiting experts like Greg Biggins gushing over his ability and his potential.
Here's what Greg had to say about Winfield high schools', Nick Patton:
"He has a huge arm and throws very well on the run. He's a good athlete who can make plays with his legs and that first guy to come through never even lays a hand on him. He's a big kid and very strong, looks like a college QB right now although he's still a little raw mechanically. Has huge upside and could be one of the top 10 QBs in the country." - Greg Biggins/TheInsiders.com
Accolades like this will no doubt continue and has made schools voice to Nick something he's been all too happy to hear. "Coaches tell me that they will work their offense around my strengths." he said. "At first, I thought I was going to have to go to a school that did things like I did them, but now, coaches let me know that they think I am good enough they will adjust what they do to fit what I do best."
And what is that? "My running ability is my main strength, but if you think I am going to run, I know I can throw the ball on you and get it down-field." As Greg Biggins noted, down-field is just where Nick can get the ball, Nick reporting that he has thrown it just messing around at school, 85 yards. That kind of arm is absolutely incredible and it dictates to a degree what he likes to do best when he is called upon to pass. "I like throwing it deep." Nick said. "Go routes or whatever, anyone can throw those slant-ins and short passes, but I like burning them down the field."
Nick said that some coaches even told him that once they saw a certain play where he tossed the ball a reported 75+ yards in a game, from him to where the receiver was, offers were on the way. "They like my arm I guess." Nick said.
His arm, his mobility and his size (6'3" and 185 lbs.) make his frame ideal to build on and his aforementioned attitude makes him ideal to build around. From just about every expert out there, Nick is considered to be potentially one of the best in the country.
With all that attention from coast to coast though, you know what's most important to him? Take a wild guess. "I know that if I didn't have anything to worry about, I would sign with Florida in a heartbeat." Nick said. "But, my family couldn't see any of my games then and that's not right."
"Everything they have done for me to get me where I am, there's no way I am leaving to a place they can't watch me play."
So, the Midwestern region seems to be a lock for Nick, to which he would agree. "I just want my family to be able to come to my games, so I have to stay close enough for them to be able to do that."
Amongst those teams located in the middle of the country, well, you can just about name them and they have offered Patton. A good chunk of the Big XII, some of the Big Ten and other teams like Colorado State.
With the myriad options available to him, Nick does have other criteria in mind aside from family ties. "I want to go to a school that wants me as a quarterback." Nick said. "I don't want someone to recruit me as a QB and then try and make me a receiver or when I get there, all I do is run, because I can do a lot more than that."
Amongst those looking to be heavy favorites for Nick right now appear to be Kansas State first followed closely by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who not by coincidence, both have black quarterbacks starting. "It just shows me that they won't try and make me something I don't want to be, plus I like the offense of Kansas State. It fits what I do best."
What Nick does best will be considered harder and harder to localize as the season goes on if all the experts are right. And, that's fine with Nick, because he's not planning on playing any real favorites, at least not right now and not in the immediate future. "I like Kansas State a lot, but I'm not making any decisions now." Nick said. "I want to take all my visits and see just how I feel about it. Once I get to see them and be there, I will know a lot more about where I fit in and what feels better to me."
To say Nick will be watched closely by many this season belabors the obvious. To say that he will be getting a lot of publicity, accolades and notoriety, again, it will be reiterated almost ad nauseam. What you won't be able to say enough of though, hear enough about and really see and feel for yourself is just who and what this young man is.
He's not a product of coaching, not a product of on-the-field tutelage that has made him the stellar player he is today. Instead, think of him as a person that grew up in an environment that had one ultimate goal for him, simply to make him better. And when he decided to play football, his goals there simply were an extension of the person he already was.
It's his physicality that will attract viewers and yes, coaches as well, but I think you are going to find by the end of it all, there will be just as much pub about who Nick Patton is as there will be about what he can do.
After all, that's what his family is about and family is what Nick Patton is about. The rest is just football.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619