ST. PETERSBURG — Daz’mond Patterson was praying someone would give him a chance at the Division I football level.
As college scouts from across the nation perused Plant City High’s football practices in 2011 in search of prospects, scouts overlooked Patterson, a running back for the Raiders. Though he was regarded as one of the top in the Tampa Bay area at his position, many coaches said he was too small or not fast enough.
Then, Ohio University assistant coach Keven Lightner showed up on Plant City’s campus.
“Coach Lightner came in and said, ‘We could use him,’ ” Plant City coach Wayne Ward said.
The rest is history, or in Patterson’s case, history in the making.
Patterson, now a sophomore at Ohio, will make his return to the Tampa Bay area today as the Bobcats face East Carolina in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field at 2 p.m.
In 10 games this season, Patterson has rushed for 185 yards with two touchdowns and caught seven passes for 43 yards. He’s returned four punts for 44 yards and is fourth on the team in kick returns with 108 yards on five returns.
If you ask those who know him best, Patterson’s road to becoming a Division I college football player was more about belief than ability.
“I always told him, that no matter what people say, go and give your all,” said Kenyappa Shaw, Patterson’s mother. “I don’t think he allowed those things to get to him. In spite of what people were saying, he had inner confidence.”
On the field, Patterson’s competitive nature never let his size be an excuse for mediocrity.
“He played the game of football like he deserved a chance,” Ward said. “That’s one of the things that drove his passion. Not the biggest kid but the biggest heart. He wasn’t the fastest, but no one ever ran him down.”
His senior season at Plant City, Patterson finished with 821 rushing yards and six touchdowns, far less than the 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns he collected as a junior. Patterson graduated from Plant City in December 2011 to enroll early at Ohio and participate in spring practice.
As a freshman at Ohio, Patterson appeared in 12 games and made one start and was the team’s top kickoff returner with 582 yards, averaging 24.2 yards per return, and recorded his first career touchdown against Buffalo with a 100-yard kickoff return, which tied a school record en route to earning conference special teams Player of the Week honors. He also finished the season fourth on the team in rushing with 195 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Finding his niche on special teams came as a surprise to Patterson, who had few opportunities to return the ball in high school.
“It was a big confidence boost,” he said. “I’m a pretty confident person but I’m a freshman and new to college football. To be able to step back there, week after week, I got more confident back there.”
One of only two players from Florida on the team, Patterson has reserved 80 seats for friends, family, former coaches and teammates. Patterson said each player was given four tickets to the game, but many of his teammates gave him their share. Among those 80 will be Shaw, who raised him, two younger siblings and roughly 20 foster children as a single parent.
Patterson hardly saw his father growing up. His father, Shaw said, was in and out of prison through Patterson’s childhood.
“He’s never really had a father figure in his life in his home,” Shaw said. “My father spent time with him. My brothers all took up time with him. He’s had men in his life that took time with him.”
Patterson will be conscious of the 80 people wearing T-shirts with his name on the back today, including his mother. He just won’t acknowledge them until after the game.
“I have a job to get done,” he said.
Mom understands, although it’s to swallow. She offered a car for Patterson to drive back and forth from the team’s hotel to Plant City. She also offered to stay at a hotel in St. Pete to see him. Patterson said no.
“He’s so mature and I’m so grateful he’s mature enough to realize that,” she said. “He has a goal and he’s reaching for that goal.”