|Drew Patterson found himself at home in Whitewater, got hurt, then got healthy when the Warhawks needed him most.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Josh Smith
Even though his collegiate career began elsewhere, Drew Patterson felt a connection to UW-Whitewater.
So when he was looking to transfer from Western Illinois, he chose to play where several members of his family had competed before him.
"I wasn't comfortable at the school I was at. I didn't really enjoy where I was," Patterson said. "Making the decision to leave to come here was pretty easy for me. I think I always knew I kind of wanted to be here at Whitewater."
Patterson's grandpa, Jim Ganoung, played wide receiver for the Warhawks in the 1960s. His dad, Tim Patterson, was a defensive back in the mid-80s while his brother, Nick Patterson, recently concluded his career as a tailback for the Warhawks.
"Talking to them was a huge thing for me. I'm really close with my brother – always have been. And I talk about everything with my parents," Patterson explained. "So my dad and brother were able to share some experiences they had, tell me what they thought of the program and what they enjoyed about the community and university, in general."
UW-Whitewater head coach Kevin Bullis said the Warhawks expressed an interest in Patterson as he was completing high school. But knowing that he had Division I opportunities available at that time, the Warhawks gave Patterson some space. But when Patterson opted to transfer, UW-Whitewater was delighted to add him to the running backs group.
|Patterson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first season since transferring to UW-Whitewater from Western Illinois.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
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"We were very excited when we heard that news after the season last year because he's obviously a talented young man," Bullis said. "Most people do go to college where there's some type of connection – somehow, some way. And obviously, family members can be a very important connection.
"It worked in our favor."
In his first year with the program, Patterson has rushed for 1,044 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, despite missing two games with an injury. He returned to the lineup this week, and scored two touchdowns in the Warhawks' 37-9 win over Wittenberg. In the process, he became UW-W's 13th running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in as many years.
"It's an honor to be able to be mentioned with those other great running backs," Patterson said. "But, like I'm sure many of them have said in the past, it can't be done without the rest of your offense – the linemen up front getting that consistent blocking for you, quarterbacks getting you in position to run the right plays and wide receivers blocking down field, allowing those big plays to spring."
Patterson's role within the offense has evolved throughout the season. He began the year splitting carries with Jarrod Ware. Then he shouldered the bulk of the workload when Ware was injured and lost for the season.
"I felt comfortable in both situations – being able to split time with Jarrod and also taking a little more of the carries by myself," Patterson said. "Now we're getting back to being able to split carries with me and Josh Ringelberg. He's really stepped up, and he's running the ball well."
While Patterson was sidelined, both Cam Maly and Ringelberg emerged as running threats, keeping the Warhawks' running game churning. In addition to strong play from the offensive line, Bullis credited running backs coach Nelson Edmunds for helping the position group weather injuries and having his players ready to step in.
Despite strong play from a number of backs this season, Bullis said having Patterson on the field is a boost for the offense because he has great vision and the intelligence to see his reads and make the right move.
"He's a very physical runner," Bullis said, "and he can also make people miss. That's a tough combination – that intelligence, that vision, that quickness and yet the ability to be able to lower his shoulder on someone. Those are all assets that he has."
Patterson is one of several key players getting healthy for UW-Whitewater. Players such as center Nate Trewyn, defensive back Famus Hasty, tight end Brent Campbell and defensive lineman John Flood are getting back on the field, too.
"Getting those guys rolling again, I think, builds a lot of confidence for the team and the players," Bullis said. "And it's good timing, heading into the quarterfinals."
After losing to Mount Union on the road in the 2015 playoffs, UW-Whitewater knows how difficult it can be to win in Alliance, Ohio. So the Warhawks have a lot of respect for John Carroll, which accomplished the feat three weeks ago. But Bullis believes his team his ready to take on its quarterfinal opponent.
"Playoffs is another level of energy. Every game you win, there's a little more energy in the room and on the field," Bullis said. "They'll be a very good challenge. Very physical team. They play a similar style of football. They want to control the line of scrimmage with their D-line and their O-line very much in the matter that we do."
"We've got some momentum going," Patterson added. "We're playing good, complete football at the time we need to be playing it.
"I feel confident with what our offense and defense are doing on the weekends, so it will be exciting this Saturday."