Playing time increased this past season for Alabama weakside linebacker Tana Patrick, as did his stash of national championship rings.
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound former North Jackson High standout tallied 16 tackles in 13 games with the Crimson Tide, with five of those stops on special teams. When Patrick suits up again for Alabama against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome on Aug. 31, he will be a fifth-year senior seeking a fourth national title.
"It seems like yesterday I was coming in and getting ready for my first summer workouts and the whole college experience," Patrick said earlier this month in Miami. "I think I've had a pretty good season, just being able to contribute a little bit more, and that's always good. I feel like it has been really rewarding.
"Any time they need me to do anything, I'm willing to do it."
Patrick had four tackles in the 40-7 whipping of Florida Atlantic and four again in the 49-0 rout of Auburn, but his favorite play was a goal-line tackle during the first half of the loss to Texas A&M. He has yet to start in 27 career contests but is a fixture in defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's short-yardage and goal-line packages.
Not that Alabama is forced to use goal-line packages each week.
"Tana has grown a lot and has gotten better every year, but in the last two months he has really picked up so much," Smart said. "He is playing much better, and I think he is a potential guy to start next year. I may have said the same thing about him last year, but I know I didn't have the same conviction I have now. He has really grown as a player.
"The last few weeks have really shown me, because he's been physically tough, and he does a great job of fitting the runs."
A former Rivals.com top-75 national prospect in a stellar Tide 2009 signing class that was headed by tailback Trent Richardson, tackle D.J. Fluker, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Nico Johnson, Patrick has not flourished as quickly as many of his classmates. His 16 tackles this past season were five more than he had his first two seasons combined.
"The biggest thing for him is continuing to learn his assignments and execute those, because he's a really good football player," Smart said. "It's just that every now and then he forgets what to do when he's got to do it, but you're talking about a competitor every day."
Said Johnson: "He had a great year, and he got so much better in the last few weeks. I think he's going to be OK."
Patrick is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in restaurant and hotel management. It's no secret to those in and around Bridgeport that his family can assemble massive backyard barbecue feasts, and Patrick wouldn't mind opening a barbecue joint or two between Bridgeport and Chattanooga.
One name suggestion would be "Three Rings Barbecue," though that might be out of date this time next year.
"Less than one percent of players even get one championship ring," Patrick said. "To get a third one is really rare."