UMaine’s Manny Patterson upends Trevon Bryant of New Hampshire during last year’s season opener. Patterson has been named to the Buck Buchanan Watch List as one of the 25 best defensive players in the Football Championship Subdivision. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ORONO — The mind game begins as soon as the opposing offense breaks its huddle. Manny Patterson, the senior cornerback at the University of Maine, sizes up his opponent as he slowly trots over to cover him.

The first thing he does is look at how the receiver is standing, where he’s standing. Then he checks the yard markers, gauging how much cushion he can give. Then he begins to plot his plan.

“Sometimes we have a blitz planned and we’re in a (man-to-man) defense,” said Patterson. “So I step back a little bit, make him think I’m going to bail on him, make him think, ‘Oh, I’m going to have a clean release.’ Then, right before the snap, I snap right back into his face and stay with him. Sometimes I’ll make him think that I’m going to play him to the outside, then I snap back inside. It’s all a game out there.”

And Patterson wins it most of the time. A Baltimore native, he is starting his fourth season at cornerback for the Black Bears, and first-year head coach Nick Charlton doesn’t hide his admiration. “I believe he’s probably the best corner in the country,” he said. “He’s someone I trust.”

In the preseason, Patterson was named to the first team of the STATS FCS all-America team and to the Buck Buchanan Watch List as one of the 25 best defensive players in the Football Championship Subdivision. He broke up 22 passes last year and intercepted another three, as Maine went 10-4 and advanced to the FCS semifinals for the first time. “I think he’s going to be a pro,” said Charlton.

Patterson, 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, dreams of playing in the NFL. It’s what has driven him since the day he accepted a scholarship offer from Maine.

Coming out of Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, Patterson had few offers. Maine, he said, gave him the chance to excel.

“Up here in Orono,” he said the after the Black Bears second scrimmage of training camp, “there’s not much to do at all. It forces you to lock into football and stick to the grind and, actually, it helps you put in extra work. When there’s not much to do, it’s like, ‘I might as well go get a nice little workout in.’ It’s definitely helped me tunnel my focus and my vision on my main goal, which is to get to the league.”

FROM BALTIMORE TO ORONO

Patterson didn’t like football at first. “I was like, young young,” he said. “I quit. It was too hard. We did too much running. I didn’t like it.”

A year later, in the fourth grade, Patterson had a folder for his school work that had a picture of a football player on it.

“I don’t know, there was something about the photo that I would look at every day and it intrigued me, and I wanted to play again,” he said. “So the next year, my dad signed me up and I just started growing love for the sport. The more I started learning about it, it’s what I felt pulled to.”

Patterson, 21, was also an exceptional sprinter on his high school track team. He still holds the school record in the 200-meter dash (21.80 seconds) and is second in the 100 (10.68).

Jack Peach, his track coach at Mount St. Joseph, said he has no doubt Patterson could have been a successful sprinter in college.

“A lot of colleges would have liked that. He had some interest there,” said Peach. “But I knew football was his No. 1 thing. I knew his decision was going to be based on football and not track.”

Rich Holzer, Patterson’s football coach at Mount St. Joseph for his senior year, said Patterson was “one of the most dominant corners I’ve ever coached. He was a lockdown corner. Teams didn’t even throw to his side.”

He’s still stunned at the few offers Patterson had from colleges. When Maine’s coaches visited, Holzer made this guarantee: “I told them if they made him an offer, he was going to start four years for them, at least three.”

Sure enough, he started the season opener as a freshman against Connecticut, and he has started 33 of his 35 college games. In three years, Patterson has 84 tackles, 49 passes defended and three interceptions.

Manny Patterson grapples for the ball as he brings down New Hampshire receiver Rory Donovan in a 2016 game. Patterson, a senior, has started 33 of Maine’s 35 games since his freshman year. Kevin Bennett photo

One of the traits that made Patterson so special in high school was his work ethic.

“The year I came in, that whole offseason he worked as hard as any kid in the program,” said Holzer. “And when the season came, he was willing to do whatever it took for the team. He never said a word. He just put his head down and worked hard.”

Peach said what impressed him most about Patterson was his dedication to the track team. After Patterson made his commitment to Maine, Peach was concerned he wouldn’t come back to track. But Patterson returned to the team after taking a short break to rest his body after the football season.

“I was thrilled he still wanted to come back out,” said Peach. “And he did it again in the spring. It’s not every kid who does that. I always respected (Patterson) for that. He showed up and did what we asked him to do.”

Charlton said nothing has changed.

“He has some natural gifts,” said Charlton, “but he’s someone who really works at it.”

When he’s not playing the NBA2K video game or binge-watching his favorite shows on Netflix, Patterson spends his free time at home watching film – of Maine’s next opponent, its latest practice or its last game, always looking for something to give him an edge.

“If I put my mind to something, I’m going to go get it,” said Patterson. “It was hard. In high school, I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t think I was going to make it far in football at all. But I feel like over these past three years, I’ve gained confidence in myself and can do anything I set my mind to.”

Coming to Orono from Baltimore was a culture shock for Patterson.

Snow, cold, slow drivers – “Everyone here drives the speed limit,” he said. “The pace of everything up here is just so slow” – took getting used to.

So did being a young black man on a predominantly white campus. He has sometimes been the only black student in a class.

“It was a huge culture shift,” said Patterson. “I didn’t receive any hate from anyone for me being black. It was just different, not having people of your own color around.”

But he had football and its family to keep him focused. “It keeps my head on straight at all times, makes me sure I’m doing the right thing, not out there doing anything dumb,” said Patterson. “Football has given me something to lose. It makes me wiser with my decisions, on and off the field.”

‘STILL GOT THINGS TO PROVE’

It’s often been said that cornerbacks are on an island, isolated one-on-one with a receiver they need to shut down. The Black Bears trust that Patterson can take care of his own patch of turf.

Defensive tackle Charles Mitchell said he knows when Patterson is locked on his receiver because the quarterback is holding the ball, not throwing it.

“That gives me a lot more confidence in my game,” said Mitchell. “It may not show up prominently on the field, but we know if the quarterback is sitting there waiting for someone to get open, it’s a field day for us as well.

“If (Patterson) is having a good day, we’re all having a good day.”

Maine was one of the top pass-rushing teams in the nation a year ago, ranking fourth in sacks. The pass coverage was a big part of it.

“You don’t even notice (Patterson’s) impact because teams won’t even try him, they won’t even attack that side of the defense,” said Mike Ryan, Maine’s defensive coordinator. “When he is tested, he has the stats to back up how good of a player he is. As a play caller, it gives you that flexibility, knowing whoever Manny is on is going to be covered. That allows us to be more flexible with our defenses and get creative with our schemes to take advantage of our skills.”

Manny Patterson hopes to play in the NFL. UMaine head coach Nick Charlton says, “I believe he’s probably the best corner in the country.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Ryan said the Black Bears might move Patterson around the secondary this year instead of keeping him on one side of the field. Patterson is excited to have his role expanded.

“I want to show I can be everywhere on the field in the secondary and still lock down,” he said. “That’s my goal this year, to learn all the positions on the field so that wherever they need me, I’m ready to go.”

His dream to reach the NFL isn’t just his own. It’s shared with his family, especially his parents, Frank and Shedana.

“They’re a huge factor in everything I do,” he said. “They’ve always been there supporting me, going to my games. It would mean the world to them to be able to see me play in an NFL stadium.”

A construction engineering major, Patterson will need another year or so to complete his studies before he graduates. As a child, construction intrigued him, but he never thought much about it until it came time to choose a path of study. Patterson said he had two choices: the engineering major, which would push him academically, or an easier major, which would allow him to concentrate more on football. A talk with his parents was all he needed to make his choice.

“I know football isn’t going to be here forever,” said Patterson. “I had to make a decision for my future family and my family now. Even when (studies) got hard, I stuck with it, I would find a way to get through. My goal now is to finish as many classes as I can so I have as few classes as possible to come back to.”

Maine opens its season Aug. 30 against Sacred Heart at Alfond Stadium. The Black Bears are ranked seventh in the STATS FCS preseason poll. If they’re going to meet or exceed those preseason expectations, Patterson knows he has to be at his best.

“I’ve got to go into each game with the mindset that I’ve got to be an All-American on each play, each snap,” he said. “I’ve got to show them I’m this for a reason.

“It’s all definitely an honor. I thank God for bringing me this far in my career, but I’ve still got one year left, so I’ve still got things to prove.”


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