Kentucky’s success running the ball helped flip running back from Cincinnati

Published 10:39 am Friday, January 5, 2024

By Larry Vaught

Contributing Columnist

Even when he committed to Cincinnati, Florida running back Jason Patterson continued to keep a close eye on the Kentucky football program.

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He knew the success running backs Benny Snell and Chris Rodriguez had been star running backs for coach Mark Stoops and then he watched Ray Davis do the same this season when he led the Southeastern Conference in scoring. That eventually was enough for Patterson to flip his commitment and sign with Kentucky.

“Me and C-Rod are about the same size. I am just a little faster and (offensive coordinator) Liam Coen knows how to use his backs,” said Patterson. “Benny Snell, Chris Rodriguez, Ray Davis … those guys all ran for 1,000 yards (in a season). They were just dogs in the SEC.

“I think pressure just uplifts my game and knowing what I’ve got to match knowing the guys before me is fine. Thinking about the future and hopefully going to the NFL, I know Kentucky is Running Back U. and just felt that was best for me.”

Patterson admits he liked Kentucky but the late arrival of running backs coach Jay Boulware led him to commit to Cincinnati. However, the more Patterson got to know Boulware, the more he liked him — especially when he saw what Davis was doing last season.

The 5-10, 205-pound Patterson played quarterback, running back and linebacker at Sneads (Fla.) High School.  He ran for 5,067 yards and 69 touchdowns on 449 carries in his career. He had 1,195 yards and 16 touchdowns on 122 attempts as a senior after running for a state-best 2,714 yards and 35 touchdowns as a junior on only 206 carries — an average of 13 yards per carry.

Patterson compares his running style to current NFL backs Ezekiel Elliott and Bijan Robinson.

“I can run inside. I can run outside,” he said. “I am pretty versatile. I have the size to be a downhill back but I am good in space, too.

He knows he can catch the ball because his senior season he was moved to quarterback — one reason his rushing total decreased — and had to catch shotgun snaps most plays. He also became a full-time middle linebacker his senior season because his team needed him to play both ways. He even played cornerback at times to cover the opposing team’s best receiver.

“I had to manage the game more as a senior. I never came off the field even on special teams,” he said.

Patterson said friends and family are happy with his decision to sign with Kentucky because “they all love SEC football” so much.

“My parents even told me they always wanted me to go to Kentucky even though they never tried to influence me,” Patterson said. “They were very happy I switched to Kentucky. I grew up a Florida State fan and never liked Florida, so I really liked what they did to Florida this year (when Davis ran for 280 yards) and that turned the tide for me.”

Patterson is a three-sport star.

“I just love competing. It can be cornhole and I want to win,” Patterson said.

He ran the 100-meter dash in 10.97 seconds as a junior and was a state meet qualifier. He was also clocked in 4.5 seconds in the 40 and 23.86 in the 200. It was only his second year running track and he was coming off an ankle injury in football his sophomore year. He expected to run 10.8 or faster in the 100 this season.

He’s also the starting point guard on the basketball team. He averaged 12.2 points, 8. rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a junior and his team was ranked No. 2 in the state this year but he’s enrolling at UK.

“In some ways it was a hard decision to come to UK early. But it’s a business decision and a move I had to make to better myself and my future and leave my basketball team,” Patterson said. “I love basketball. Kentucky is basketball country. I’ve never been to a Kentucky basketball game but I hope to soon.

“I have played basketball all my life. My basketball coach did not want me to leave but he understands why I am doing it. My principal and athletic director understand. I had been doing extra classes to keep my options open about graduating early. I want to go to UK to learn and if I want a chance to play early, I know this is what I have to do.”

Boulware and UK defensive line coach Anwar Stewart, a Florida native, made a home visit with Patterson before signing day. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops was coming but Patterson had to switch dates because of a basketball game.

“We just talked about life in general, stuff I could do and how they would take care of me,” Patterson said. “Coach Boulware says I have a good chance of playing early but really how much I play is based on me.

“My family loves coach Stewart. He is from Panama City which is close to where we are. He keeps it real with you. He does not sugar coat anything. He is a good dude and the type of man my family wants me to be around and they like having somebody there who is familiar with where I am from.”