Decked out in a No. 11 University of Kentucky basketball jersey, a then 6-year-old Dakota Patterson sat on the edge of some bleachers as ESPN hosted “College Gameday” at Rupp Arena on Feb. 13, 2010.
On a sign he brought inside, Patterson called himself “Lil John Wall” and told anyone who saw it that he was “Ready 2 Commit.” Now almost a full 10 years later, Patterson is a recruitable athlete, and UK is interested — but not in hoops.
The Kentucky football program extended an offer to Patterson — now a 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman at Corbin High School — last month. He plays wide receiver for the Redhounds, who open the first round of the Class 4A KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl playoffs Friday at home against Knox Central.
It was against the Panthers that Patterson recorded his first 100-yard receiving game earlier this season; he had exactly 100 yards and a touchdown on just five catches, all from fellow freshman Cameron Combs. In nine regular-season games (a bout with Bowling Green was canceled due to weather), Patterson was second on the team with 341 yards on 20 receptions, or about 25 percent of Corbin’s production in each of those categories.
UK associate head coach Vince Marrow traveled to Corbin ahead of the Wildcats’ game at South Carolina this season. Marrow intended to check in with Treyveon Longmire — a 6-2, 170-pound sophomore whom Kentucky offered in April — but Redhounds Coach Justin Haddix had another youngster whose tape he wanted Marrow to watch.
It didn’t take long for the offer to make its way to Patterson.
“It was real unexpected,” Patterson told the Herald-Leader. “I was shocked and amazed by it. I’ve been dreaming to go to college since I was a kid and play in the big leagues. Now, it’s just happening to me, and I’ve got to play like it.”
Kentucky so far is the only school to have reportedly offered Patterson, which isn’t unusual: he’s only a freshman, but under head coach Mark Stoops the program has made a habit of identifying prospects earlier than most other FBS programs, particularly those inside the commonwealth. More often than not their instincts have tipped off other coaches looking to mine the state; for example, offers from Florida State, Purdue and Tennessee were extended to Longmire soon after UK put a Big Blue spotlight on him.
Haddix, a star quarterback at Western Kentucky University after a standout prep career at Breathitt County High School, has been the head coach at Corbin since 2014. The Redhounds have been great on the football field — they’ve played in state championship games each of the past two seasons and have won at least two playoff games in each of his five seasons in charge — but this is the first time there’s been even one player that could play in the Southeastern Conference on his roster, and now he has two.
Nothing is guaranteed, though. Both guys, so far, have stayed humble.
“You’re dealing with 15-, 16-year old kids and they’ve got to continue to work every day and perfect your craft,” Haddix said. “They know that offers don’t mean anything. Until you sign your dotted line, it doesn’t mean anything. They’ve gotta continue to work and make our team better.”
Locker-room envy isn’t a problem, either, for juniors and seniors who might possibly get weary of the attention generated by their younger teammates.
“I tell our whole team, those guys being offered just helps them, ‘cause more people come to watch,” Haddix said. “People come to watch them and then you make a big play or you do this and then they’re like, ‘We need to look at this kid.’”
In its only game in Lexington this season, Corbin defeated Lafayette, 21-7. Patterson had four receptions for 87 yards, including a 50-yard pickup on a screen pass during which he displayed why he’ll be an FBS player four years from now. It was a non-existent fifth reception, though, that Patterson couldn’t stop talking about after the game.
If he’d caught a ball that slipped through his hands along the sideline, his first career TD likely would have happened a stone’s throw away from UK’s campus rather than the next week in Barbourville.
“I make catches like that in practice all the time,” Patterson said. “Catches harder than that. I took my eye off the ball for one second and that’s what happened. I’ve got to focus.”
There are bound to be a few more drops between this freshman year and his freshman year of college, wherever that ultimately ends up happening. UK is in on the ground floor, though, and he’s bled blue for as long as he can remember.
“I’d go outside and pretend I was Randall Cobb,” Patterson said. “I dreamed of it. I loved it.”
He said he’s never met Cobb, but would like to someday come face to face with his childhood hero. It’s possible, by that time, they could both be UK alumni.
Tennessee at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: SEC Network
Records: Tennessee 4-5 (2-3 SEC), Kentucky 4-4 (2-4)