Nine days. That's barely more than a week after eight months of waiting. Ask Avery Patterson how long that was.
Patterson's made a full recovery from a torn ACL, a courageous and thorough rehab that rivaled Adrian Peterson's in its intensity. A senior leader with an inspiring story, he'll be one of the Ducks counted on in a very strong secondary this season.
#21 for the Ducks defense is a valuable resource for John Neal and Nick Aliotti, because the 5-10, 189-lb. defensive back can play all five positions in the defensive backfield. He's a capable cover man who can play cornerback on either side, comfortable in the nickle back position lining up on a slot receiver, and knowledgeable at either safety spot.
Run Forest, run: Avery Patterson discovers his magic legs, timing an out route with great anticipation for a 34-yard pick-six in a September road game against Washington State (Otto Greule jr., Getty images photo)
Patterson can strike a blow. He's fierce hitter who's laid out tailbacks and tight ends that outweigh him by 20 to 80 pounds, a form tackler who wraps up and hits with passion and aggression. In the videotape below you'll see him one inch out of control, driving Cameron Marshall to the turf in the open field.
Before the knee injury he suffered in the second quarter of the Cal game, Patterson had emerged as a leader and dependable starter after John Boyett went down with an injury. During a stretch at midseason he picked off passes in three straight games, jumping an out route perfectly against Conner Halliday for a 34-yard touchdown, then doing the same thing the very next week against Keith Price and the Huskies, this time for a 43-yard score. The very next game he grabbed a tipped ball from Taylor Kelly and returned it 34 yards down to the one yard line, nearly scoring a hat trick of pick sixes, something that's never been done in Oregon history.
Recovery was hard. Avery hurt the knee on the road at Berkeley, and, being from Pittsburgh, nearby at the north tip of the Bay, his friends and family were all there. He told Jason Vondersmith of the Portland Tribune,
"Especially on that first night I got hurt, probably the hardest time of my life, just going through that, seeing my family more upset than I was really hurt me. I wanted to get back on the field and make everyone else proud. That's why I play football. I like to make my teammates proud, the fans proud, community proud, city where I'm from proud, my family proud."
At media day he told reporters,
“The first couple of weeks were really difficult because we were going through things as a team and I wanted to get out there and help them,” Patterson said. “(Rehab) started out a little difficult because it was the middle of the football season and I wasn’t really motivated to do much. I had to learn to walk again and a lot of things like that. Once I got back to myself, once I was able to walk again and do a lot of things I wanted to do, it was (good) from there.”
“I took it day-by-day and really worked on trying to get healthy, not trying to push things when I shouldn’t and knowing when to go hard when I needed to,” he said. “I think that’s the real key in the recovery phase and after that getting into football shape.”
He credits the training staff for motivating him during the rehab. Patterson sat out spring practice as a precaution, but he's full-go now and not worrying about the injury. He's stood out in practice, making plays like he always has. The versatile defensive back was fourth on the team in tackles when he got hurt with 44. As a sophomore playing on special teams and in reserve, he racked up 55, with a blocked punt in the Washington State game that Bo Lokombo returned for a touchdown, the first score in a game the Ducks started sluggishly.
Teammates marvelled at the courage and determination he's shown in his comeback. All-league cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu told Gary Horowitz of the Statesman-Journal, “He’s looking good. Coming off an injury, he prepared to come back better than anyone I’ve seen.”
The pick six versus WSU:
Pick six versus Washington:
Defensive highlights from the Arizona State game, in which Avery had three tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass breakup, and a int:
Patterson's recovery, with the work ethic he has and the pride he plays with, completes the picture in the Oregon secondary. John Neal has a couple of fierce cover corners in Terrance Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu, a trio of smart, solid deep backs in Erick Dargan, Brian Jackson and Patterson, all of whom can cover and hit, able to play rover, nickle back, strong safety or free safety. All five are adept at coming up on the run, complete football players who don't shy away from contact.
The bench is strong also. Juniors Troy Hill and Dior Mathis could start for most teams in the conference. Mathis is one of the fastest players on the team, and Hill is a pound-for-pound hitter who had a pick six of his own against Arizona. Young players like Chris Seisay and Reggie Daniels have had a strong camp, as well as 6-4, 200-lb. freshman Tyree Robinson.
Oregon intercepted 26 passes last season, tops in the nation. They returned the ints for a total of 501 yards and four tds. Everybody underestimates the Webfoot defense. In 2013, that will be even harder to do.
Welcome back, Avery Patterson. It's going to be a fun year.