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Patchan picks Gators over his lifelong love
The Armwood offensive lineman thought hard about his dad's alma mater, Miami.
By JOE SMITH and KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writers
Published January 6, 2008
TAMPA- His father played for the Miami Hurricanes and his mother has always cheered for them, but as the time grew near for heralded Armwood offensive lineman Matt Patchan to select a college, his decision became one of business, not bloodlines.
"I," Patchan said, "had to do what was best for me."
For Patchan, whom Rivals.com rates as the country's 11th best prospect, that meant spurning Miami, the team he has loved his entire life, in favor of Florida, the team he has grown oh-so-close with the past few months.
"I didn't know what I was going to do until about 45 minutes ago," Patchan said. "It was that tough (of a decision)."
Patchan, 6 feet 7 and 265 pounds, said he informed Miami coach Randy Shannon of his decision shortly before his 1:30 p.m. news conference. "I told him that I respected their program, but that I think Florida offers a little more right now," Patchan said.
Patchan, 17, graduated from high school in December and plans to leave for Gainesville on Monday. He said he will wear No. 71 - the number his father wore at Miami in the 1980s.
"It's very exciting," said Matt Patchan III, Patchan's dad. "As a father, I feel so blessed."
The younger Patchan's announcement ends a whirlwind and sometimes crazy courtship. There was former 'Cane great Michael Irvin chatting him up after a UM reunion, Tim Tebow's phone call the day after the Gators QB won the Heisman, and a call from Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey (another UM great) the same day.
Florida is getting a surprisingly versatile player on and off the field; he's an explosive two-way lineman with dogged determination and a "mean streak," and a health-conscious cooker who sings country tunes on karaoke and plans to possibly pursue a political career after his playing career. Though that may have to wait, as some predict Patchan could eventually be playing on Sundays.
"He's just a freak. What can't he do?" recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said.
Patchan's physicality, which made him tough in the trenches, was born on wrestling mats in Pennsylvania, where he spent many of his early years.
"He was a natural," Matt Patchan III, said. "He qualified for big tournaments when he was 8 years old."
Patchan soon focused on football, a family tradition. Matt Patchan III, who played for Miami from 1984-87 under Jimmy Johnson, blocked for Vinny Testaverde. After a brief NFL career, shortened by a shoulder injury, the elder Patchan was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Radiation stopped the cancer but he lost some mobility in his legs and walks with the help of a cane.
Patchan said his father has been a huge influence on his life; teammate Wesley Skiffington sees it show up in everything his friend does. Patchan treats his body like a prized Mona Lisa, almost always eating healthy foods even if it means cooking it himself. "I don't think he remembers the last time he ate McDonald's, and he hasn't had a cookie in six years. I think he saw with (his father) what could happen no matter what kind of shape you're in," Skiffington said.
Patchan and Skiffington often make late-night trips to Wal-Mart for cooking binges at Patchan's apartment in Seffner. The five-star recruit moved there shortly after he transferred from Freedom High last year; Patchan said his father stays with him, but when he's solo, it "prepares me for living on my own in college." Patchan's transfer, sparked by former Freedom coach Adam Stegeman getting dismissed three games into the 2006 season, was a chance to give the senior "a challenge.
Hawks senior tailback Eric Smith said Patchan's dedication and attitude garnered his teammates' respect from the start; so much so, coach Sean Callahan made Patchan the only first-year player to become an Armwood captain.
"Patchan has definitely outgrown high school football," Callahan said.
As the moment of truth arrived Saturday, the player known for his dominance and his confidence never stopped fidgeting. And while he spoke to those who had gathered to hear his decision and offer support, his voice began to crack.
His nervousness was understandable.
"This," Patchan would later say, "is the biggest day of my life."