This time last year, Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson was participating in his first iteration of spring football practices. Sure, there were expectations. Patterson was ranked the No. 1 quarterback in the high school ranks in 2016. But he had time.
Patterson spent much of his true freshman season simply trying to find his college footing. He sat and watched, learning from then-senior starter Chad Kelly. He ran some scout team and led the No. 2 unit on occasion. All in all, though, he lived a charmed, worry-free life for a handful of months.
But then Kelly suffered a season-ending injury in November, and suddenly Patterson was thrust into the spotlight. He played in three games, including a come-from-behind win over Texas A&M in his college debut. Back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt and in-state rival Mississippi State followed.
Overall, Patterson totaled six touchdowns compared to three interceptions. He averaged 293.3 passing yards per game.
“I think he’s settled in, and everybody knows that,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said Saturday. “He gives his teammates a confidence. It’s taken him a little while, too, because everything (with the offense) was new. All the verbiage, the drops you have to take and add to that the run game and the checks off of that. Today the call list was (small). He had a good understanding of it, and I thought he was very efficient. I don’t think he’s changed as a person. He’s always had that confidence. But the experience of playing in this league and these 15 practices, I think it’s helped him feel better. He’ll play faster.”
Ole Miss wrapped spring football practices Saturday afternoon with the annual Grove Bowl game. Patterson, the unquestioned starter, completed 21 of 30 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns. He’s the face of the Rebels and the leader of an Ole Miss offense ushering in a new offense under recently-hired offensive coordinator Phil Longo.
And he’s the guiding force for a program dealing with NCAA issues and a one-year self-imposed bowl ban. Yet he’s handling it all.
“I think the team as a whole reacted pretty well,” he said. “We obviously got the news, and it stinks not being able to play in a bowl game this year. But all of those guys came in in the 2016 class and 2015 class and the vision still remains the same. We still have 12 games against the best teams in the country in the best conference. The vision doesn’t change. We still want to win a national championship.
“The guys around me in my class really helped me through it. They kept me positive. We all keep each other positive; we’re all going through the same thing right now. So the biggest thing for us is we’re staying positive.”
Patterson said leadership isn’t something he's had much trouble with, though the vocal side of it remains a work in progress.
“Last year I got to sit back and watch Evan Engram and Chad and all those guys that led the team and learn the positive things that they did and the negative things that they did,” he said. “You take it in, and I think the biggest step for me this spring was to be a vocal leader. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.
“I’m not really a rah-rah guy. But I think that’s one thing that I chose to improve on this spring. Being around these guys — Jordan Wilkins, Javon Patterson and all those guys — has really helped me with that goal.”
Overall, Patterson believes the spring was productive. More often than not, the Rebel offense got the best of the defense, and the Grove Bowl was no different. The players have quickly adapted to the new offense under Longo, and Patterson is pleased with where the Rebels are entering the offseason.
“The spring’s been great,” he said. “The offense was really anxious to learn the new system. So far I think the offense is flowing pretty well. I’m very comfortable. Right when coach Longo got here I believed in his system because of the success that he had. We’ve all kind of bought in. I’m 100 percent confident in him and the system.
“We’re pretty good right now. We’re going to be even better in August.”