Utah receiver Tim Patrick is a fighter. The man who has faced more than his fair share of adversity, and his determination to fight back has landed him on the brink of fulfilling his professional football dreams.
A standout athlete at University City High in San Diego, California in both football and basketball the 6-foot-5 inch Patrick helped put an unknown high school on the map and became the face of their programs. However, that notoriety did not turn itself into scholarship offers, and Patrick ended up chasing his dreams at nearby Grossmont College.
Patrick’s first year at Grossmont did not go smoothly.
After his mother married during his freshman year, Patrick’s living situation went into upheaval. He left his mother’s home because he butted heads with his new stepfather. He ended up at a friend’s home, where he never fully felt comfortable. Next, Patrick went to his stepmother’s home, but that arrangement didn’t last. He finally ended up at his grandmother’s home before getting an alarming call from his mother.
“I got a call one day. My momma called me basically telling me [her husband] was stalking her, that he was going to try and hit her and my brother ended up fighting him,” Patrick said. “I went back home and they ended up getting a divorce. She got a restraining order on him and I went back home to help my mom out. I got a job at this weird thrift store called My Sister’s Closet and I just helped my mom out any way I could. Money, taking care of my sister, being around just so she felt safe.”
Eventually, the stalking ceased and life became more normal. But by that time, the combination of family drama, constant moving and not having a car to get to class left Patrick’s grades in serious trouble. Despite having the odds stacked against him, Patrick went to work and qualified to play football his sophomore year at Grossmont.
He had a standout year with 53 receptions for 964 yards, eight touchdowns and was named First-team all-PCAC. He accomplished this while nearly doubling his school schedule for both fall and spring semester, taking 18 and 24 credits respectively, doing it all for a chance to walk-on with the Utes.
“Grade-wise it was more of me not taking school seriously and a little bit of the family stuff I had going on at the time,” Patrick said. “I knew that if I wanted to play football I needed to have good grades- or not even good grades. I just needed to pass my classes. So they told me what I had to do and I did it. People didn’t think I was going to be able to, but I did. I work best when my back is against the wall and nobody believes I can do it, so I proved them wrong once again by doing that. I got to Utah and nobody knew about me. They didn’t think I would do much and once again I proved them wrong.”
Once Patrick arrived on campus at the University of Utah, he almost immediately started turning heads in fall camp of 2014. His freakish athletic ability quickly took him from walk-on to scholarship athlete and he wasted no time getting into the playbook. According to Patrick, it was the first time he says he had ever been handed one, and he started studying it day and night with teammate and roommate Jameson Field.
“We didn’t know anybody, so we weren’t hanging out with people,” Patrick reflected of his first camp with the Utes. “Before practice, we were in the playbook. After practice, we were in the playbook. We’d test each other every night before we’d go to sleep. It was just something I was not used to, and it was something I did every day just so I could get used to it mentally - so that when I would be on the field it would be easier for me. The first couple of days I was playing slow just because I wanted to be for sure as to what I was doing. I was thinking too much but once I got it down, I started playing fast.”
As the season kicked into gear and went along, not only were the Utes gaining momentum in their new conference, but so was Patrick. He earned playing time in nine games with four starts and quickly became a key role player on the Ute offense. However, like many of Patrick’s previous life experiences, that momentum came to a screeching halt.
On November 8, 2014, Utah hosted the number 4 ranked Oregon Ducks. Fans were hungry for a major upset in Salt Lake City that night as the 17th ranked Utes came prepared with an aggressive game plan to beat the Ducks in front of a Black Out crowd and ESPN audience.
The first offensive series went according to plan for the Utes, as backup quarterback Kendal Thompson trotted out on the field in place of starter Travis Wilson – a move that befuddled the Duck defense. Utah ran and threw the ball with efficiency and were suddenly up 7-0.
The next offensive series is where things started to go sideways for the Utes, ultimately leading to their 51-27 demise to the National Championship bound Ducks. Thompson tore his ACL and was out for the season. Wilson was put in and threw a beautiful ball to a wide open Kaelin Clay, only instead of an easy touchdown Clay dropped the ball before crossing the goal line. It was the “drop heard ‘round the world,” and instead of a 14 point Utah lead, the game was suddenly tied at 7.
But there was still time and hope and Patrick knew he would get his shot. It came, only Patrick didn’t know it would be his last for nearly a year and half. Worse yet, it could have been forever.
“The play call I’m pretty sure was ‘mesh,’ so I had a post and if it was man coverage I knew [Wilson] was going to me,” Patrick said. “Ran the post, I looked back and he got a push out of the pocket so he started scrambling to the right, once I see him scramble I try to break out to the back pylon and as I tried to break out me and the defender’s legs got caught together. As I was falling down to the ground I felt my leg wobble in a weird way and I knew it was broken before I ever hit the ground.”
Unknown to the crowd as Patrick was being carted away was that his left leg completely broke in half and the bone had come through the skin. The only thing saving everyone from the gruesome sight was Patrick’s compression stockings.
“First thing that popped into my head is that I want my team to win. It was a game we needed to win and it would have changed our season around had we won that game. So at the time I really wasn’t worried about myself,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want my team to worry about me and just keep on fighting. But once I got into the ambulance I started thinking about what was going to happen to me and honestly, I couldn’t really tell you what was going to happen. I had never broke anything before, so I didn’t really know how to take it. I just knew my leg was broken in half and the bone was sticking out and the only thing I could think of was if I would ever be able to play football again.”
Once doctors analyzed the damage, the report back to Patrick was not good. It was an atypical injury in football. Not many players return to the field after suffering a compound fracture. Patrick says he was told he would probably be self-sufficient again in 4-6 months, with no promises he’d be playing football again.
Of course, what Patrick heard was that he could attempt to play football again in 4-6 months. So he set to work getting better, but the journey back was not without its own set of setbacks.
“Rehab was filled with a lot of ups and downs. Some days I felt great, some days I felt terrible. Every time I felt like I had taken a step forward something happened and I would take five steps back,” Patrick said. “It was just an up and down process. Early in the process it wasn’t even rehab, it was more of just learning how to walk again. Walking normal was the first step.”
“Second step was building muscle back in my quad, hamstring and calves because I had no muscle in my calves and no muscles in my quads,” Patrick continued. “My leg was literally just meat. We did a stem on it and it would contract the muscle. Every time I contracted the muscle I had to squeeze at the same time and I did that for a long time. Did a lot of stuff where I’d just hang my leg off and just flex it and a lot of just trying to walk back in my dorm. Basically walk back and forth to the bathroom without using crutches. It was like being a baby in a 21 year old’s body because I couldn’t really do anything for myself. I couldn’t walk. It was terrible.”
Making the process slightly better were the people in Patrick’s corner: his friends, teammates, coaches and mother - who didn’t even wait to see the ending of the game before renting a car and driving all night to be by her son’s side the next morning.
“As soon as she had seen it on TV- I didn’t know this until I woke up- as soon as she had seen it on TV she got a rental car and she drove out,” Patrick said. “When I woke up she was there. That was kind of cool. She was out here for like four days just because she had work she couldn’t take too much time off. She was there and she helped me out. She made me feel a little bit more comfortable than my roommate.”
Field, who had a background as a firefighter before joining the Utes and fellow teammate Tevin Carter who had experience with his own fair share of injuries, were quick to aid Patrick whenever he needed it. Beth Brennan who is the Coordinator for Football Academics was also there making sure Patrick kept up in school.
“Jameson, he was my first friend out in Utah. He helped me a lot,” Patrick said. “There was a time when I had to give myself shots so my blood wouldn’t clot. It was like a blood thinner and at first I couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it, so Jameson did it for me for like the first two weeks until I got over myself and did it myself. Tevin helped me too. He’d come over and take me just to get me out of the house and not be in my bed all day. I had plenty of help. Beth helped me with [academic] stuff, but it was definitely hard not being able to depend on myself.”
After the ups and downs that came with recovery, Patrick hit the 4-6 month mark just in time to head into fall camp of 2015. But once again, Patrick’s comeback was derailed, and it would end up being a whole year before he would really see the field again.
“Going into camp that year, I felt good. But I still felt like I had to take pills to not feel it, so I’d take a lot of ibuprofen before practice to feel normal,” he said. “I felt good and then I got hit in that same spot that I broke [my leg], and all the pain came back from when I broke it the first time. I kept telling the coaches ‘I broke it, I broke it,’ and they were like ‘It’s impossible. You have a rod in your leg.’ And I was saying ‘Coach, I’m telling you I broke it.’ I went to the doctors and got an X-Ray and everything was fine. They said it was probably just a bone contusion and it should go away in a week or so. I started asking people that had the same thing and they said it usually happened for a couple of days and then would go away and mine just never went away. I had a hard time dealing with that.”
Ultimately Patrick saw action in only one game in 2015 against Utah State. The rest of the year he spent struggling to come back. His recovery included three surgeries to correct the pain in his leg as well as one final procedure in the post-season. The first happened before Utah took on USC, where they took bone marrow from both sides of his hip. “We were #3 in the nation and I was like, ‘I’ve got to play in this game.’ I talked to the doctors and they thought it might help to plug up the hole in my leg. I had the surgery and I think I was on bed rest for a couple of days and then I came back running and felt normal that day,” he explained. “Woke up the next morning and tried running again and all of my pain was back. It sucked.”
The next two tries to help ease Patrick’s pain in order to allow him to play comfortably involved removing the screws from his leg. “Next they took my upper screws out and then they took the [ankle] ones out and none of that helped,” Patrick said. “That’s when I think I talked to coach Whitt. I think it was after the Washington game and I told him I didn’t think I could do anything on the field that the other guys could right now. I asked him if there was anyway I could get a medical, and he said he would see what they could do. He told me to talk to compliance, tell them my story and once he heard I had a chance of getting it, that is when they set me aside for the rest of the year and I was on scout team.”
Patrick had his fourth corrective surgery after Utah’s Las Vegas Bowl win that year over BYU. That one finally did the trick.
Leading up to the 2016 season no one outside of the program was really sure what to expect out of Patrick. Would he have the same speed he showed in 2014? Would he play freely like he’d never suffered a horrific injury? Would he get hurt again?
According to Patrick, his teammates and coaches were not surprised by what was about to come. “I felt like the whole Utah family- everyone who has played with me - knew what I could do on the field,” he said. “I don’t feel like they were surprised much, but you have to put it on paper for people to start noticing you. So I knew going into 2016 that I had a lot of work to do just to catch up with the other guys who had a head start. I just went 110% every play just to get my name out there and help my team win.”
And win they did, finishing the season 9-4 and in the top 25 for a third consecutive year. In the home opener against Southern Utah, Patrick had two touchdowns, a reception of 57 yards and finished with 105 total receiving yards in his first real game back since November 8, 2014.
The comeback was gratifying for more than just football reasons and fear of failing or more injuries were far from Patrick’s mind. While a big home crowd cheered Patrick as he put on a dominating performance in his first game back, there was only one person watching the game that really mattered to him. Patrick’s father had just been released from prison in time to watch his oldest son play football for the first time since he was a child.
“It was crazy,” Patrick reflected. “He said he was coming. I knew he was in Utah, but it was something like you don’t notice until you see him. After my second touchdown I’m going to the sideline and he’s literally right there and it just hit me ‘Damn, my dad is really here watching me.’ I just scored and he’s literally on the field. I don’t know how he got on the field but he was on the field right there shaking my hand after I scored. It was big for me, but I know it was ten times bigger for him being able to see his oldest son play at this level. Because he hadn’t seen me play since I was nine years old and he was seeing me play at a D1 university and I scored a touchdown. It was kind of like a storybook ending for him.”
Patrick’s storybook comeback was just getting warmed-up. Three weeks later, with his mom and number one fan present, Patrick would be going head to head with one of the best defensive backs in the country in USC’s Adoree Jackson and walk away the victor in what would end up being his best game ever as a Ute.
“It was a Thursday night game so I’m pretty sure we were the only game on. I knew everybody was going to be watching,” Patrick said. “Adoree stripped me my first year at Utah and it was my first time being stripped, so I went into the game thinking about that. Thinking first-team all conference and just thinking he couldn’t guard me. You can say a lot of things that people can’t do but it doesn’t matter until you put it on the field.”
“Going into that game I was probably the most focused I have ever been,” Patrick continued. “It was raining, so I knew I was going to need to be more focused and the first drive we ran the ball every play and we scored. That whole drive was me feeling him out, seeing if he was going to play me like I had seen on film. We were guessing he was going to follow me around just because of what I had done the game before. I was the first real big receiver he saw all season, and he played exactly the way he played on film. Once I had seen that I knew I had him. The way he plays he plays mirror. He doesn’t use his hands and I knew the way I run my routes- I run precise routes and I’m quick with it- I knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in front of me and I knew I had to keep him on his heels. I remember I never tried to use the same release back to back. I tried switching it up and I went into the game with a great game plan. It worked.”
There was one small moment of frustration for Patrick where he threw his gloves off after missing out on two receptions from overthinking. He says it was his way of refocusing and trusting his own ability. It ultimately led to him literally taking Jackson right out of his shoes and getting the game-winning touchdown for the Utes with just 16 seconds left. The catch would cement him forever in Utah football lore. The impact of Patrick’s 100-yard game against Jackson and USC really didn’t come into full perspective until his position coach Guy Holliday laid it out for him in film study the next day.
“When you come at a DB no matter if it’s a run or pass you’re taking something out of him each play. Coach Holliday said, ‘When have you ever seen that kid’s shoe come off before?’ I said, ‘Never.’ And he said, ‘It’s because you were whooping his ass every play and he was physically and mentally just drained,’” Patrick said. “That’s what happens when you beat somebody up every single play.”
Patrick went on to finish his senior year with 711 total yards and 5 touchdowns after being slowed up for four games with a sprained ankle. He hoped his performance would be enough to gain interest from NFL Scouts and earn himself a trip to Indianapolis to perform at the Combine, but Patrick once again found himself on the outside looking in. He would need to wait for Utah’s Pro Day on March 23 to show what he could do.
“After the season, I found out what scouts didn’t think I was able to do and I attacked it in my off-season and two months before my Pro Day,” Patrick said. “They didn’t think I was strong. I attacked it and did 22 reps on the bench. They didn’t think I was fast. I ran a 4.4. I just feel like I don’t even know what my body is capable of yet because I would have never thought two months ago I would hit 22 on the bench or run a 4.4. It just shows how much more growing I have to do. In the right hands I feel like I could be one of the best receivers in the NFL.”
For now, Patrick has done all he can do and is playing the waiting game like the rest of the NFL hopefuls of the 2017 class. In the meantime, he hopes his story gives hope to someone out there who is hanging in the balance just as he has many times before. “I am somebody who never gave up and knew what they wanted in life and kept fighting for it,” Patrick said. “It just shows how resilient I am. I get knocked down and I’ll get right back up and come even harder.”
“I almost had football taken away because of school. I came out on top of that. I almost had football taken away because of injury. I came out on top of that,” Patrick continued. “Now I got overlooked once again. Basically, in this year’s draft I’ve been overlooked again. I didn’t get an invite to the Combine and it just added to the fire. I’m definitely out to prove whoever does all of the invites wrong because they invited the most receivers in like 10 years- I think it was like 58 so that just shows how much respect I have.”
With fire and pure determination in his eye Patrick said confidently, “I plan on gaining all of their respect when it’s all said and done.”