Tiger Kickoff: MU's Patton embraces backup role

The highly-touted Columbia native has embraced his role despite once being considered as the heir apparent to Brad Smith.
Friday, October 10, 2008 | 4:01 p.m. CDT; updated 4:16 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 10, 2008

COLUMBIA — It's a familiar scene at Faurot Field. The Tigers are playing the Nevada Wolf Pack, and Chase Daniel has a man open on Missouri's first drive of the second half. It's Jeremy Maclin, and it's a touchdown to put the Tigers ahead 45-17.

On the sideline, as the fans celebrate, few have a bigger reason to cheer than backup quarterback Chase Patton. Like his teammates and the fans, he's always excited to see the Tigers score, because it moves them a step closer to victory.

But for Patton, the scoring has a second meaning. Each Missouri touchdown puts him one step closer to getting his chance to play.

"That helps drive you a little bit," he said. "You don't have to push yourself as much knowing that you might get a shot to play."

With his team now up by 28 on this day, as long as the Wolf Pack don't score, one more touchdown should probably get him in the game.

This is Chase Patton's reality, watching and waiting for his chance to come, then getting it whenever coach Gary Pinkel has decided Daniel and the first-team offense have done enough for one day.

But it wasn't supposed to be this way. Patton's reality was supposed to be more like Daniel's, coming in for three seasons after Brad Smith graduated and directing the offense. When Patton made the three-mile move from Rock Bridge High School to Faurot Field, Daniel was not yet in the picture, and the plan was for Patton to be the heir to Smith.

Instead, in his senior season, Patton now waits for Daniel to put up enough points. Then he shares the backup job with the new heir, freshman Blaine Gabbert. When that happens, the two of them rotate through the remaining offensive series in each game.

But is Patton, who could be starting for several Division I-A programs, bitter about the experience? Not even close.

"I really think that (my faith) is the biggest thing," Patton said. "It's just something that's kept me grounded, put things in perspective. Football is something I've been blessed to play, the fact that something didn't go right doesn't mean (it isn't). It's still a great opportunity, and I try to make the best of it."

Although he's not getting the cheers on Saturdays until the end of the game, he's made the most of his experience off the field. Patton has become involved with Bible study programs and ministries, and he married his longtime girlfriend Ashley Guy in 2007.

The wedding might not have been possible if Chase Patton had gone somewhere else-or if Ashley Patton had not rejected a track scholarship at North Carolina-Wilmington to stay with the man who is now her husband.

"When she made the decision to come here, it was icing on top of the cake," Chase Patton said. "Getting married just adds a whole different perspective on life. Family is so amazing, just to go home and share experiences with her, good and bad. That's added a ton to my life."

It's now 52-17 over Nevada, and one touchdown was enough to give him the opportunity. Patton stands in Daniel's usual position, calling signals from the Wolf Pack's 3-yard line. He takes the snap, sees an opening, and runs it in for the touchdown. It's his first of the season, and he's now scored twice in his Tiger career.

Ironically for someone who is known more for his arm than his legs, he doesn't yet have a touchdown pass to pair with his two rushing scores.

But it's a rare moment of backup glory, and he'll take it however he can get it. In fact, he'll rank it among his favorite football memories for now.

"It always feels good to get in there," he said. "I never would have thought I'd have two rushing touchdowns and no passing touchdowns, I don't know if I ran more than two touchdowns in high school."

It's clear Patton would love to produce a touchdown with his arm before his career is over. But in true Patton fashion, he'd be fine if it doesn't happen.

"It would mean a ton," he said. "The rushing touchdowns are great too, it's just kind of ironic. Any touchdown, any experience would be great. It'd be great to get a passing touchdown under my belt, but if not, it's just as good."

Does anything bother Chase Patton? It doesn't seem that way. It doesn't bother him that he's sharing time with Gabbert, a true freshman.

"If I worried about that, I would beat myself up over it," he said. "That's not even worth my time at this point. Blaine's a great guy and a great quarterback."

It doesn't bother him that he could probably start for half of the programs in the Big 12 and most of the programs that he rejected scholarships from.

"I made my commitment here, and I just see that as a commitment," he said. "Everybody needs a good backup. It's just the cards I was dealt, and I'm here for a reason. It might not be football. My commitment is huge to this program. The team is what it's all about, and my commitment will be here until I leave."

That attitude is what makes him so respected among his teammates and his coaches.

"He's a great kid," Pinkel said. "The biggest Chase Patton fan there is is me."

It's also won him the respect of fans, some of whom think he could fill in well if Daniel were injured.

"It means a ton to me that people respect me," Patton said.

Patton's on the field again, this time in Lincoln, Neb., with a 52-10 lead after Daniel's finished routing Nebraska. With how well Daniel has torn up the Cornhuskers' defense, this could be when Patton gets the touchdown pass that has eluded him for so long.

But those aren't his orders. Pinkel thinks the Tigers have scored enough. So Patton runs eight and a half minutes off the clock, putting the team ahead of himself as always.

"As tough as the situation that I've been in is, it's a role that every team needs to have," Patton said. "If I can be the best backup quarterback in the nation, that's what I'm working towards."


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