No­madic tight end set­tles at Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY

The 14th in a se­ries pro­fil­ing new­com­ers to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball team.

FAYET­TEVILLE — Jeremy Pat­ton calls him­self blessed to be an Arkansas Ra­zor­back.

He’s been through a lot to get here.

Pat­ton, a 6-5, 250-pound tight end, bounced be­tween In­di­anapo­lis, his home­town, and two cen­tral Florida cities — Kis­sim­mee and Apopka — as he was grow­ing up, and things weren’t al­ways smooth.

“I come from a place where I didn’t even have a bed to sleep on,” Pat­ton said, re­fer­ring to In­di­anapo­lis. “Yeah, I come from a trou­bled fam­ily.

“Now, to be here with all of this, it’s just an ex­tra bless­ing. It’s great. It’s ev­ery­thing it was sup­posed to be.”

Pat­ton, through it all, ended up Ari­zona Western Col­lege, where he de­vel­oped into the na­tion’s top ju­nior col­lege tight end prospect.

Pat­ton didn’t put up big num­bers last sea­son, partly be­cause the Mata­dors ran a prostyle of­fense sim­i­lar to that of Arkansas, and tight ends were of­ten em­ployed as block­ers.

He had 18 catches for 242 yards and 6 touch­downs af­ter 17 catches for 316 yards and 4 touch­downs dur­ing his fresh­man sea­son.

Pat­ton said he has en­joyed what has been a mild Fayet­teville sum­mer af­ter the blast fur­nace that was Yuma, Ariz., home of Ari­zona Western.

“My first day fly­ing into Yuma, I left on a July day and it was 84 de­grees in In­di­anapo­lis,” he said. “I re­mem­ber specif­i­cally. I got to Yuma and it was 121 with 30 mph winds. It felt like I was in a mi­crowave out­side. That was

sur­real, so far away from home. Man, that was tough.”

Pat­ton said his re­cruit­ment by Barry Lun­ney Jr., his po­si­tion coach at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, and the of­fen­sive scheme pro­moted by Coach Bret Bielema and co­or­di­na­tor Dan Enos fac­tored into him pick­ing the Ra­zor­backs over of­fers from many schools, in­clud­ing Alabama, Auburn, Ari­zona, Ari­zona State, South­ern Cal and oth­ers.

“That’s half the rea­son I’m here right now,” Pat­ton said, when ad­dress­ing Arkansas-based me­dia on Wed­nes­day. “Coach Lun­ney is the rea­son why I’m here, I would say, right now.

“And the scheme of the of­fense that Coach B runs. Coach Lun­ney, he gen­uinely cares, and that’s some­thing I take to heart.”

Bielema heaped high praise on Pat­ton dur­ing a talk to fans the day af­ter na­tional sign­ing day.

“We’ve had a num­ber of tight ends get drafted,” Bielema said. “This one might be the best. Very ta­lented player. Very se­ri­ous de­meanor.”

Lun­ney, who saw Pat­ton

play twice at Ari­zona Western, made ref­er­ence to a clas­sic Western movie re­gard­ing his trips to the re­mote cam­pus.

“I got to know Yuma, Ariz., pretty well,” Lun­ney said. “It’s 3:10 to Yuma from Phoenix on a pud­dle jumper. And then it seems like it’s about 8 hours of a drive back from Yuma to Phoenix. So you want to get to know a guy, and we got a chance to re­ally get to know him and who we were get­ting.”

Pat­ton was orig­i­nally sched­uled to en­roll at Arkansas in Jan­uary, but he changed ma­jors and was sur­prised to find he needed

to take one more course, speech com­mu­ni­ca­tion, to grad­u­ate. He then came to Fayet­teville in June.

“I got all my work done and got out of there early,” Pat­ton said.

Pat­ton plays a po­si­tion that is highly val­ued, at Arkansas, but one that has plenty of com­pe­ti­tion with Austin Cantrell, Cheyenne O’Grady, Jack Kraus, Will Gragg and Grayson Gunter.

“We’ve got a good ro­ta­tion go­ing now at prac­tice,” Pat­ton said. “Noth­ing’s re­ally set yet. We’ve got a lot of tal­ent in that group. It’s go­ing to be up to the top four or five guys to fight and com­pete and earn those two spots.”

Arkansas em­ploys its tight ends in a va­ri­ety of ways: at­tached to the line, split out, and as a mo­tion player who can wind up as a full­back, edge blocker or a route run­ner. Pat­ton said he’s learn­ing only one of the spots but has de­signs on ex­pand­ing to the full gamut.

Lun­ney said the coaches are adding more and more to Pat­ton’s plate each day.

“Cer­tainly he’s got a lot of things to im­prove on,” Lun­ney said. … “But he’s hun­gry. He’s more than ca­pa­ble phys­i­cally. He’s more

than ca­pa­ble mentally, so we’re ex­cited where he’s go­ing. He’s mak­ing the group bet­ter.”

Lun­ney com­pared Pat­ton’s late ar­rival this sum­mer to a race car that’s a lap down.

“He’s be­hind, but I will say this: He’s got his foot on the gas pedal … and he’s do­ing his best to try to catch up.”

Enos said he likes Pat­ton’s skill set.

“He’s be­hind a lit­tle bit from a con­di­tion­ing stand­point be­cause he hasn’t been here long, but you’ve seen men­tal tough­ness from him be­cause he’s fought through each prac­tice and fin­ished it,” Enos said. “He’s flashed with his ball skills and his tough­ness and his abil­ity to strain al­ready.”

Pat­ton suf­fered what he de­scribed as a hip flexor dur­ing de­vel­op­men­tal prac­tice on Wed­nes­day, but said he’d take treat­ment and be back at it Thurs­day, be­cause he’s a man with a plan.

“I’m an ur­gent guy,” Pat­ton said. “I’m not go­ing to sit around and not do any­thing to get bet­ter. You know I was in here early on days learn­ing with Coach Lun­ney and try­ing to get ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Arkansas ju­nior tight end Jeremy Pat­ton was rated the na­tion’s No. 1 ju­nior col­lege tight end by ESPN, Scout and 247Sports af­ter play­ing last sea­son at Ari­zona Western Col­lege.

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