Nov. 3, 2012
By Nick Carner
Cordarrelle Patterson has been thrust into the Tennessee spotlight this season and has performed better than anyone could have predicted.
As junior wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson streaked down the far sideline at the Georgia Dome against N.C. State, he looked more like a bright-orange blur than a football player.
Quarterback Tyler Bray pump faked, then hit Patterson with a perfectly placed, over-the-shoulder pass that settled in Patterson's arms for a touchdown.
Just like that, on the second drive of the year, a mere three minutes into the season, Vol fans knew. This Patterson guy is the real deal.
Now, before joining the Vols, the Rock Hill, South Carolina native spent the previous two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas putting up some ridiculous numbers on the field in his second year at HCC.
32 carries for 379 yards, six touchdowns
61 catches for 924 yards, 15 touchdowns
10 kick returns, 482 yards, three touchdowns
Two-time National Junior College Athletic Association All-American
That's an average of nearly 20 yards per-touch and one touchdown for every four times he had his hands on the ball.
Patterson currently holds Hutchinson career records for catches (113), yards (1,832), receiving touchdowns (24), total touchdowns (36), total points (216) and all-purpose yards (3,379).
These striking numbers, and 5-star rankings from recruiting services 247 Sports and Scout, gave Tennessee fans reason to be optimistic about Patterson's skills. He had the Tennessee faithful raving about his abilities all summer before his arrival on UT's campus. His teammates even fanned the hype-flames with their own comments after seeing him in action first hand.
Junior offensive lineman JaWaun James had high praise for Patterson back at the SEC Media Days in July.
"He moves well and has crazy body control," James said. "He's going to be a good player."
Bray affirmed, before even seeing Patterson in game action, that he had arrived on campus as good as advertised.
"CP is everything everybody hyped him up to be," Bray said. "He'll go up and get the ball. He's a big, strong receiver who is going to do very well in the SEC."
However, the learning curve from junior college to the Football Bowl Subdivision level is often steep. It usually takes time for the player to adjust to the different competition levels. Patterson said the most noticeable difference from junior college to FBS is the speed of the game.
"I'm getting used to it," Patterson said. "The speed is totally different," Patterson said. "Everybody is so much faster here. Everything happens so fast. The players are more physical, too."
Helping Patterson get up to "speed" is fellow wide receiver Justin Hunter. Patterson was propelled into the starting lineup, meaning he was going to be more heavily involved in the offense than anybody had anticipated. Luckily, Hunter has played a big part in Patterson's development.
"He's really taken me under his wing," Patterson said. "Ever since I got here, I've just followed behind him, trying to see the things he does, listening to what he says, trying to find ways to improve myself and grow off him."
This growth and improvement, coupled with Patterson's raw athletic ability, has allowed him to become Tennessee's most dynamic player--something Vol fans probably weren't expecting.
With 27 catches for 366 yards so far this season, Patterson ranks second behind Hunter in both categories. Patterson's game-breaking ability isn't limited to just catching passes though. He's third on the team in rushing yards with 229 on 16 attempts, averaging out to 14.3 yards per carry.
But, returning kicks is really where Patterson's natural ability to make people miss in the open field shines the most. He averages over 33 yards per kick return, which ranks fourth in the FBS.
At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, it seems implausible for a guy that big to cut and change direction as fluidly as he does. He uses this ability to repeatedly make would-be tacklers look silly in the open field.
Earlier this year against Mississippi State, Patterson took a kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown, the first kick return for a score at Tennessee since Bret Smith in 2004.
Patterson maintains that it doesn't matter how he gets the ball; he just wants to play.
"I don't have a favorite way to get the ball," Patterson said. "I just like to get the ball in my hands and just try to make things happen."
Through all his contributions on the gridiron, Patterson is just another kid off the field. When the Arts and Sciences major is not playing football, you can find him and his contagious smile watching movies, shopping at the mall or just hanging out and goofing off with friends.
While Tennessee fans expected Patterson to be good, most had no idea Patterson would be this good. The importance of the instant-impact, big-play dynamic he represents in Tennessee's arsenal is invaluable. Patterson hit the ground running against N.C. State, so to speak, and never looked back.
No matter how well he performs though, a special relationship with his mother allows him to retain his humility and stay "grounded."
"I have the best relationship in the world with my mother," Patterson said. "Sometimes I talk to her three or four times a day. She keeps me grinding. My mom is my everything."