Between assignments, blocking schemes and adrenaline-pumping rap beats, football players have a lot going through their heads as they get off the team bus and march toward the stadium. For Shea Patterson, it’s all Motown.
“It just gets me in a good mood, always has,” the Toledo, Ohio, native said with a shrug.
As a fourth-grader growing up in the Midwest, Patterson didn’t know he’d be under center. After surpassing the 95-pound weight limit in his local league, Patterson was forced to play up against sixth-grade opponents, lining up as a fullback and linebacker. Since then, he’s come a long way, with football always at the forefront.
“I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t football. I really don’t know,” Patterson said. “I’ve always had a Plan A, and that’s the only thing I’ve ever worked for.”
Patterson’s days in Ohio came to a conclusion in 2008 when his family relocated to the Rio Grande Valley, the heart of Texas football. The family moved the year Patterson entered middle school. He had found his place at signal-caller, and his dazzling playmaking ability garnered the national spotlight before he even took a snap at the high school level.
“My favorite pass I’ve thrown came when I was in seventh grade,” Patterson said with a smile. “I had three dudes on my right arm, so I switched the ball over to my left and completed a pass 20 yards down field.”
When Patterson finally did take the reins at Hidalgo High School, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound freshman excelled. In only nine games, the 15-year-old phenom threw for 1,863 yards, ran for 649 yards, accounted for 27 touchdowns and won a district championship. Coaching staffs and analysts across the nation took note and placed him at the top of the 2016 recruiting class rankings.
That summer, his father accepted a promotion and informed his family they would be moving to Shreveport, Louisiana. Upon arrival, Patterson was again met with high expectations and did not disappoint. In his two years at Calvary Baptist Academy, Patterson culminated more than 5,000 yards in the air, added 375 on the ground and illuminated scoreboards with 78 total touchdowns en route to back-to-back Louisiana Division III state championships. His success at Calvary solidified his spot atop the recruiting ranks and rack in Division I offers, culminating in his commitment to Ole Miss in February of his junior year.
“I just have fun with it,” he said, addressing the constant scrutiny. “I have a great support staff around me, and my family is awesome. I just control what I can control and let the rest take care of itself.”
Though his commitment to Ole Miss was all but finalized, the recruiting continued, and Patterson enrolled at IMG Academy, a boarding school and sport-training destination in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior season. While Patterson continued to light up the stat sheet and the scoreboard, LSU and its head coach, Les Miles, remained particularly persistent. Hoping to lure the nation’s top recruit from their SEC West rival and keep him in state, the purple and gold were unsuccessful.
The Tigers, for the first time since Patterson’s arrival in Oxford, will take the field Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. While it may not have locked down the quarterback from upstate, the program received an influx of commitments from his friends, teammates and gridiron colleagues. Devin White, who currently starts at linebacker for LSU’s defense, was one of those who headed to Baton Rouge.
“Devin White was one of my best friends in high school,” Patterson said. “We text. We watch one another on TV. We Snapchat. We keep each other updated on how we’re doing. I talk to all of those guys all the time.”
Safe to say, the rivalry comes with an added motivation to come out on top.
“Anytime you can get a win in the SEC is huge,” Patterson said. “But knowing all those guys and at one point late in my high school thinking I was going to end up there, (a win this weekend) would be huge. It would be really huge.”
Adding extra sentiment to the game, his brother Sean resigned from his position with LSU just days before Patterson’s commitment. Hired as an associate director for recruiting operations just six days later, he joined the Ole Miss staff and has been in Oxford since.
“It’s been a dream of ours (to reunite) since the recruiting process started,” Patterson said. “He’s a worker. He’s a grinder, and so we’re always working to prepare. But more importantly, he reminds me to just go out and have fun.”
This year’s Magnolia Bowl will feature two high-powered offenses: one anchored in the run game, the other rooted in Patterson’s arm and ability to find the “Nasty Wide Outs” downfield. Through six games, the Rebel offense has amassed 2,143 yards passing, and receivers A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge both sit in the top five of the SEC for receiving yardage, with Brown leading the group. Patterson, who has completed 156 of 237 attempts, holds the utmost faith in his pass catchers.
“If I see any of those guys with a step on the defensive back, I’m letting it go,” Patterson said. “Just put it in the vicinity. They’re big guys. I trust them to go get it if I just let it fly.”
Beyond Saturday’s contest, Patterson has his sights set on the biggest stage, to which he is no stranger. Assuring his dedication to staying the course, a successful career at the helm includes competing for a national title.
“With all the stuff that has gone on over the last year and a half with this program, it’s making the team closer,” Patterson said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to be back on top soon.”
Between his upbringing, on-field singularity and humble nature, Patterson is different. His whole life, the golden boy from Toledo has broken the mold. But no matter the circumstance, he took command of his surroundings and never lost sight of who he is.