Race For Chase Picks Up Pace

Chase Patton is a name that has long been near the top of Tennessee's quarterback list as a possible air apparent to a parade of passing wizards that includes: Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning, Tee Martin and Casey Clausen.

Now Tennessee is clearly high on the list of Patton whose services are sought by prominent pigskin programs across the nation. That's a significant development in UT's quarterback quest because top names have been falling like dominoes in recent weeks and the Vols are still seeking a trigger man for the immediate future.

At 6-5, 205, with a rifle right arm, Patton could be a fine fit for a pro style Tennessee offense that is loaded with young talent and in need of a smooth operator behind center next fall. In only his second season at quarterback, after beginning his football career at tight end, Patton completed 186 of 355 passes for 2,670 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine picks as a junior at Rock Bridge High in Columbia, Mo.

With two-a-day practices beginning Aug. 10, Patton decided the time was right to name three favorites with the idea of advancing the process of picking a school.

"There is some truth to stories that I'm moving my timetable for making a decision forward," he confirmed Sunday. "I'm starting to narrow it down a little bit. My top three are solid: Tennessee, Missouri and UCLA. Then after that there's Iowa, Stanford and Virginia, maybe. They haven't offered but they're showing some interest in me. And maybe K-State, but the top three are the ones I'm really looking at right now. The others, I'm still considering them but not as strongly."

Patton said he feels a greater sense of urgency since competing at the Elite 11 Camp held in Los Angeles recently, featuring most of the top high school senior QBs nationally.

"I don't have a time frame," he said when asked when a decision might be expected. "I have a little time, but I'm starting to feel a little more sense of urgency than I've had before. I'm starting to realize that people are starting to choose. When I was at the Elite 11, I'd hear the other quarterbacks talking about how they want to go here or there and it makes you realize the urgency."

One of the tidbits Patton picked up at the Elite 11 Camp, and a story long rumored, is that The Insiders No. 3 signal caller Anthony Morelli is likely headed to home state Pittsburgh. Tennessee was another school Morelli was considering as were several other big names that have committed to other schools or eliminated the Vols, including: QB candidates like No. 4 Chad Henne who committed to Michigan, No. 6 Drew Weatherford who committed to Florida State and No. 7 Bobby Reid who committed to Oklahoma State.

Patton, who is currently listed No. 12 by The Insiders among players at his position, enjoyed the chance to meet and compete with the nation's top prospects and was enriched by the experience.

"The Elite 11 was awesome," he said. "It was really nice. I got there and met all the guys we've been reading about. You get out there and you think you're kind of on your own that these guys might be against each other because they're all like top quarterbacks. But everybody was really cool, and we all got along together very well. It was a great experience."

Patton roomed with California signal caller Nate Longshore at the Elite 11 and stuck around after it concluded for an unofficial visit to UCLA. While the trip to the west coast was rewarding, Patton wasn't pleased with his performance.

"I kind of struggled actually," he said. "I was one of the few that didn't bring his own footballs so they had brand new Nike balls out there. I don't want to make excuses, but it was kind of hard to adjust to. The brand new balls were kind of hard to hold on to because they were slick. I had it slip out of my hands a few times and then it kind of got in my head.

"My arm feels fine. I got in some practice last week just throwing at trees and stuff like that. I threw much better out in the yard than I did at camp."

Patton, who plans to major in either engineering or business, said he is looking for a good education as well as a winning program. He also wants an opportunity to play early and is monitoring the recruiting scene to determine the best opportunity for PT. He intends to help with task of recruiting once he settles on a school.

"I definitely want to help recruit for the school I choose," he said. "I've read stories about how one player can commit and cause the thing to kind of snow ball. When you get a good quarterback, I think it can make other skill players take a closer look."

Randy Sanders and Phillip Fulmer are handling the bulk of Tennessee's recruitment of Patton. He attended the Vols Senior Camp in June and came away impressed by what he saw.

"When I went to Tennessee, I got to see the town and it kind of reminds me of Columbia a little bit," he said. "The overall city of Knoxville is bigger, but it's mainly in the outlying areas. It just reminded me of Columbia. The stadium is definitely an attraction. The idea of playing in front of a 110,000 people is exciting, very much a positive. I like the overall facilities and the circumstances as far as it being a program that wins.

"I've been getting a lot of letters from them. I know that they probably have a lot of offers out and they'll only sign one or two quarterbacks."

That's another reason Patton is looking to make an early decision on a school. He doesn't want to have his choices limited by another top notch prospect beating him to the punch.

"It could come before the season starts," he said of his decision. "There's a lot to talk about and I'm keeping up with as much as I can about where some of the other guys are going."

By the way, part of Patton's e-mail address reads: fball4life. No doubt, Tennessee would like to provide a place for him to live the next four years of his football life. For without passer of Patton's ilk at the controls, the Vols offense could be earthbound next fall.

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