Two similar paths converged again Wednesday at Rock Bridge.
Quarterback Chase Patton and linebacker Van Alexander made their oral commitments to Missouri official Wednesday when they signed letters of intent to become Tigers.
Patton and Alexander have played sports together since they were kids. They were always two of the best athletes in their class and seemed destined for athletic greatness.
Alexander became the strong, hard-hitting defensive standout, setting school records for tackles in a game (28), season (146) and career (400). Patton developed into the star quarterback with the powerful right arm. Patton finished his career as the Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year, passing for 2,622 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Nearly every major college program recruited Patton and Alexander, but in the end, both felt the most comfortable at their hometown school.
When it came time to make a decision on picking a college, their paths went in different directions.
Alexander stayed the course, following his path from Rock Bridge up Providence Road to Missouri.
Rick Alexander, Alexander’s father, played linebacker at MU in the 1970s. Although his father never pressured him into playing at Missouri, it was an easy decision for Alexander when the time came.
“I grew up looking up to all the players and everything,” Alexander said. “Now, I am going to end up being one, so it makes it that much more fun to go up through that as a kid.”
Patton’s path took him all over the map. He went a few hours north to Iowa, out west to UCLA and southeast to Tennessee. As one of the nation’s most sought-after quarterbacks, Patton narrowed his choices to five after a hectic summer.
After an appearance at the Elite 11 Camp for the best quarterbacks in the country in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Patton trimmed his college choices to Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee, Kansas State and UCLA.
Unlike his close friend and teammate, Patton vowed to take all of his visits and see what was out there. Speculation swirled about Patton’s affection for the Volunteers and the Hawkeyes, but it all changed when he took his official visit to MU on Dec. 12.
The weekend went perfect for Patton. He heard what he needed to hear and, with Alexander by his side, he blurted out a commitment to the Tigers.
No place like home
Both players readily say staying close to home will have its advantages. Home cooked meals and clean laundry are only a short drive away. They will have their families close by to help them when the times get hard, but perhaps more important, they will have each other.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun because we have been playing sports together since we were 9 or 10,” Patton said. “It is cool to see both of us go through junior high and high school and now college. It’s fun to be able to do it together.”
Patton and Alexander aren’t the only ones happy to stay home. Bob and Joyce Patton, Patton’s parents, said they were proud of their son for taking his time to make an educated decision about his future. Not having to move to Knoxville or Iowa City to be close to their son didn’t hurt their feelings too much, either.
“He had a really good visit to Tennessee, but I don’t think home ever left his heart,” Bob Patton said.
Patton and Alexander will face the added pressure of being hometown heroes at Missouri. Most of the pressure will be similar to the kind they faced when they were going through the recruiting process, so they will be used to it.
Commitments make 'a statement'
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the recruitment of Patton and Alexander was important for his program.
“It’s the first time I have recruited anybody that their high school is about a mile and a half from my office,” Pinkel said. “Being local players, for them to stay here makes a statement.”
Although Patton made Missouri fans wait nervously for months, Alexander carved what could be his legacy early on. He was the first commitment of Missouri’s 2004 recruiting class, committing in early December 2003.
“I told him that the fans, coaches and alumni would remember that he was the first verbal commitment to Missouri and he never wavered on it,” Rick Alexander said. “I think Missouri is on the verge of some very good things and it is really special for Van and Chase to be a part of that.”
For the better part of the past four years, Patton and Alexander have been a single phrase, Chase and Van or Van and Chase. Neither has a problem with that continuing, for they can be Chase and Van, Missouri Tigers.
“It’s kind of weird,” Patton said. “I feel like I am still talking about Rock Bridge when I say we, but I am just looking forward to meeting the team and earning their respect.”