It was exactly the surly attitude any football coach would want a linebacker to have. Asked how he intended to deal with opponents testing his ability and whether he could live up to the hype, North Jackson High School star Tana Patrick was short and to the point.
“I think people will find out that I don’t take much crap,” said Patrick, who twice last year delivered hits that required trainers to carry the runners off the field. “There were guys who came at me last year with a lot of talk. I just kept coming at them and eventually let them know I’m not just all hype and that they don’t want any part of me the rest of the night.
“I can tell by their faces a lot of times that they’re intimidated and don’t really want to hit me anymore. And I love the adrenaline rush from a big hit. Hearing the crowd when you nail somebody, that’s when you know you’ve done something big.”
The Stevenson, Ala., school has been one of the area’s most successful programs, with perennial top-five state rankings and at least one player signing with a Division I program in each of the last five years. But Patrick (6-foot-3, 227) is the most sought-after prospect in program history.
The hype is substantial for Patrick, who is rated the fifth-best linebacker and overall one of the top 65 prospects nationally by Rivals.com. He has 15 scholarship offers already, including from more than half the teams in the Southeastern Conference and Southern California, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida State, Clemson, Michigan and Texas A&M.
A Chiefs starter at outside linebacker the last two years, Patrick, whose first name is pronounced “Ta-nay,” will move to middle linebacker this season.
Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
North Jackson linebacker Tana Patrick was selected as a member of the 2008 Times Free Press Dynamite Dozen. Photo taken July 13, 2008.
Besides arriving at the ball in a bad mood, Patrick impresses college recruiters with his speed and versatility. At a program known for repeatedly running the football, he holds every school record for single-game, season and career receiving yards and touchdowns. His 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash has helped him average 27.9 yards per reception, with 1,505 career yards and 22 touchdowns.
“One of the assistants that was here from an SEC school coaches the tight ends, and even though he knows Tana will be a linebacker at the next level, he said he could make him an All-America tight end,” North Jackson coach Shawn Peek said. “The good Lord really blessed him with a lot of ability.
“He’s already got that D-I body, so he could step into the huddle with any team in America right now. Once they get to know him, coaches realize they won’t have to worry about Tana’s character, either. He’ll go to class and won’t be in the paper for any reason other than football.”
This summer he limited his camp visits to Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida State and has already been invited to play in both the U.S. Army and Under Armour All-America games.
“All the attention and everything was overwhelming at first,” said Patrick, who was Alabama’s Mr. Football last season after his 72 tackles led a defense that allowed just 88 rushing yards per game. “I’m used to it now and I’m just concentrating on the same goals we always have here, and that’s winning the state.
“I want to go wherever I feel comfortable. I would like to be close enough to home that my family can come watch me play a lot. But for now I’m just going to take my time and be sure of my decision.”
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...