Forefather of true freshman quarterbacks likes what he sees in Shea Patterson’s phenomenal debut
Editor’s Note: David Walker holds the record for the youngest starting quarterback in NCAA Division I football history, playing his entire freshman season for Texas A&M at age seventeen. As a four-year starter, David is an expert on all things college football, especially the quarterback position, and offers a unique look at the first collegiate start of Ole Miss freshman quarterback Shea Patterson.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the kind of anticipation for a football game that I felt in advance of last Saturday night’s matchup between Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
One of the areas in college football that I pay particular attention to involves the performances of true freshman quarterbacks across the country. I love to see how they respond to the explosiveness and speed of the game, the way they handle the hostile environments, how they execute their offense and man their position, and, most importantly, how they lead the young men on their team who are, in many cases, much older and more experienced.
It is a dynamic unique in the world of sports; A true freshman starting quarterback bears the responsibility of so many facets of the game–areas that no one else on the field, in the stands, or sitting at home can possibly comprehend.
It is a one-of-a-kind thing.
True vs redshirt freshmen
While there are many outstanding redshirt freshman quarterbacks in college football, including the Rebels’ own Jason Pellerin, it is important to note there exists a difference between a “redshirt freshman” and a “true freshman.”
Redshirt freshmen experience nothing near the sense of awe and wonderment–or pressure–that a young man feels who was playing quarterback on a high school football field less than a year earlier. Redshirt freshmen have been through the drill. They’ve participated in a full season of practices, including pre-season and, possibly, post-season film sessions, as well as off-season training programs.
In some cases, redshirt freshmen may have actually already participated in two spring trainings if they graduated early from high school and enrolled in college in January. Redshirt freshmen are oriented with their class loads. They’re ready to roll in what is truly their sophomore year of college.
It’s a very different scenario from a true freshman, a kid who gets off the bus to move into his first dormitory at a place where he doesn’t even know where the bathrooms are. And now he’s going to be his team’s starting quarterback? No pressure, right?
Yes, Patterson was an early enrollee in January, 2016 after graduating from high school in December. However, that just means he was even younger when he arrived in Oxford than he otherwise should have been. And it is important to note that because he was slated to be redshirted this season, Patterson had spent the last six weeks running the Rebels’ scout team, not the group with whom he played Saturday. Heck, he didn’t even travel with Ole Miss when they played LSU in Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago.
I, too, was a true freshman many years ago when, before the sixth game of my freshman year, my head coach announced he was promoting me to the starting quarterback position at Texas A&M. The game that week would be on the road at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium, and the year was 1973.
I was an All-State MVP, left-handed passer from Sulphur, La. who’d turned down a scholarship at LSU for this very opportunity. We were a wishbone option team at A&M, so that meant I had many decisions to make with the football and not much time to make them. Plus, I had run zero option in high school.
I was only 17 years old my entire freshman year and am still the youngest starting quarterback in NCAA history. My teammates called me “Kid.” The QB I replaced was having difficulties executing the offense; it was fast.
A&M had just started recruiting black kids and everyone else was, too. The landscape of college football changed forever in the early 70’s because of this and the freshman eligibility rule change in 1972. Long story short, we had a great game against TCU, a team the Aggies hadn’t beaten in several years. Our winning streak against TCU now stands at 24.
Shea Patterson’s debut
With all that said, here comes Shea Patterson to Kyle Field. He’s not stepping into the starting role due to any inefficiencies from the previous starter, but instead because of a devastating season-ending injury to the starter, Chad Kelly. I have watched every single snap Chad Kelly has taken and have a tremendous amount of respect for the young man for the way he regrouped and rededicated himself after his departure from Clemson. Chad is a man’s man, one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
But now, this 19-year-old freshman was coming into Kyle Field.
Tweets from local A&M beat writers ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, as they commented on how they would know how Patterson’s redshirt year (or at least the attempt at redshirting him) affected the young QB within the first few minutes of kickoff, how the magnitude of playing in this stadium would intimidate him, how his unfamiliarity with college football, ahem, SEC football, would humble him.
And, I just leaned back and smiled to myself.
For I had heard things about this kid. I saw him play in high school. I watched him in the U.S. Army All-American Game as he won the game’s MVP Award. I took note of the complete lack of hesitation from his head coach Hugh Freeze (who’s a damn good one by the way) in getting him on the field for an SEC road game.
It was going to be an incredible baptism of fire, all witnessed on national TV in prime time.
‘One of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen’
So did he crumble? Hardly. The kid was in complete command. Throughout the game, I kept waiting to see if there was a mental error, a sign of nerves, or a look of dejection.
Guess what? It never happened.
Shea Patterson put on one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching 43 years of Aggie football–and I coached for a decade.
David Walker, Texas A&M QB ’73-’77
What we saw Saturday night is almost inexplicable. Who is this young man?
I mean, Patterson moved in and out of the pocket with the quickness and elusiveness, the deftness, if you will, of a Johnny Manziel. When he broke downfield, he was fast! Not only fast, but he didn’t take any hits. He showed great, great field awareness and, Lord, what great feet!
I knew the first time I saw Johnny step on the field against Florida that he was something special. And now, Ole Miss has a player of that caliber with that arsenal of talent. Not only did he score 23 points in the fourth quarter to win the game by one, but Patterson followed up that performance with an equally stellar interview right afterward for all the world to see.
Good times ahead in Oxford: When “Quarterback U” meets “Wide Receiver U”
At his postgame press conference following the win over A&M, Hugh Freeze admitted he had a “man-crush” on Patterson when he was recruiting him. I can see why. Hell, I think I do too. Why? Because he’s a true freshman quarterback who weathered the storm in tremendous style. Something we don’t see everyday.
Congratulations, Rebels. Shea brought down the house and the ‘Home of the 12th Man’ with it. What a successor to Bo and Chad. Before long, we may just have to add “QBU” to “Wide Receiver U.”
Hotty Toddy, and Gig ’em!
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)