The closest Mike Patterson got to a football field was when the fireflies were out on the field and he was running them down with jar in hand.
He lived for the outdoors and hadn't thought about playing on the gridiron. The only dissecting Patterson was eager to do had to do with mechanical things, taking things apart and piecing them back together. He never envisioned dissecting plays and making tackles.
"I didn't get into sports until I got into high school. I always knew big-name guys and everything, and once I got into high school I got into the football program, out at Los Alamitos, and since I was here, my aunt decided for me to go out there with my cousin. I didn't want to do it, but as soon as I stepped on the field, I never wanted to come off."
That resulted in USC recruiting the defensive tackle and making him a cog to their National Championship runs.
As a true freshman, Patterson made his mark in the defensive line rotation. He recorded nine tackles, five for a loss, with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
And his numbers got better every year. As a senior, Patterson contributed 45 tackles, 16 for a loss, with two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He also added six sacks. That gave him career totals of 146 tackles, 46 for a loss, and 13 fumble recoveries.
Ironically, Patterson began his career on the offensive line in high school, but as a wrestler, he impressed with his ability to gain leverage and was moved to the other side of the ball.
"I did wrestling my sophomore year of high school," Patterson explained. "I got pretty good doing wrestling, so I got to be on the line.
"Our offensive coach was the head coach of the wrestling program and he saw I was really aggressive, staying low and everything, all kinds of mechanics that helped me out with D-line, he thought I was able to do. He said, ‘Maybe you should go on D-line.' He actually had one of the coaches come to one of my matches, and he saw how I can stay low and everything, was pretty fast and everything. After I played wrestling my sophomore year, they moved me to defensive tackle."
Continually bagged on because of his lack of ideal height, Patterson loves proving doubters wrong.
"I've been dealing with this since I came out of high school," Patterson said. "It's no big thing with me, doesn't bother me. It's just something you hear about. I always feel like I can play. I've been asked about it a lot of times but I really don't think it's a bad thing. For me, I think it's more an advantage than a disadvantage. I'm able to stay lower than guys coming off blocks, I'm able to beat guys off the ball faster and everything. I just use it to my advantage.
"I can get off the ball fast, I can play any block, run, pass, I love to get off the edge. I feel like I have a good technique overall."
The hard work has paid off. Some teams have Mike Patterson ranked above his more popular teammate, Shaun Cody. Patterson believes he is a first round guy and says Cody is too. He isn't concerned about where he ends up – he just wants the chance to continue his game-changing plays from his defensive tackle spot.
He admits some 3-4 teams have talked to him but his true love is playing on the inside where he can use his quickness off the snap to be a disruptive force in the backfield.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Tampa Bay is interested in "Baby Sapp", a moniker he has since shed by making a name for himself.
Other teams that have had him in for a visit or scouted him extensively include the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.
Height may drop him from the first round but his talent, even with a late start, can't be easily dismissed.
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