By Time Gayle
The last time James Patterson came to Montgomery, he had a team-high nine tackles to lead Buffalo past Marshall in the 2020 Camellia Bowl.
But James was never one to embrace the limelight, preferring to quietly do his job and lead by example. So when the spotlight was focused on his twin brother Jaret — the nation’s leading rusher in 2020 — that was just fine with James. When the season was over, James said he encouraged Jaret to apply for early entry into the National Football League draft.
“It was ultimately my decision to tell him to go,” Patterson said. “The type of season he had, in 2020, we only had six or seven games and he had 1,000 yards and a number (19) of touchdowns so there really wasn’t any point for him to play college any more. He was acting like a pro. He dominated his competition. I’m just glad he’s living his dream.”
Jaret, who led the nation in rushing yards per game (178.7) and was second behind Alabama’s Nagee Harris in rushing touchdowns, made the roster of the Washington Commanders and is currently on the team’s practice squad.
James, meanwhile, returned for his senior season in 2021 and for the first time would take the field without his twin brother around.
“It was hard,” Patterson admitted, “but he’s a phone call away. If I need advice or somebody to talk to, vent to, he’s there. And vice versa.
“But I don’t get depressed because I love Buffalo. I’ve got other brothers here I can lean on, so it really wasn’t bad when he left.”
By the time James returned in 2022 for a fifth year — granted his extra year due to COVID — he had 297 career tackles and a team-best 116 in 2021 and was on the preseason watch list for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards, the first awarded to the nation’s top linebacker and the others presented to the nation’s top defensive player. He could have accepted his advice to his brother and entered the NFL ranks, but improving Buffalo’s 4-8 season in 2021 was more important.
“Jaret Patterson, James Patterson, two phenomenal young men,” Buffalo coach Maurice Linguist said. “Obviously, James is our linebacker now, four years in a row as an all Mid-American Conference linebacker. He’s going to leave UB as the career leader in starts with over 50 starts. He’s got 400 career tackles, he’s a team captain, and he’s got his degree in hand. You can’t speak enough about who he is, how he leads and what he’s meant to Buffalo football.”
In fact, Linguist told the Buffalo News in a 2021 story, he encourages the incoming freshmen to talk to Patterson.
“If you want to know what to do, talk to James,” he said. “If you want to know how to do it on the field, off the field and in all areas — and kick butt in all areas — just follow this guy right here. He’s got the blueprint.”
Patterson will roll out the blueprint in the 2022 Camellia Bowl matchup with Georgia Southern on Tuesday at Cramton Bowl at 11 a.m. When asked about the 2020 bowl game and the win over Marshall, including his performance in holding the Thundering Herd offense in check, he avoids the individual accolades and instead talks about the win.
“You know the type of weather to expect, the condition of the stadium and just the level of competition you’re going to play,” Patterson said. “Those guys in the Sun Belt are nothing to take lightly. They always play good ball.
“Personal goals, I don’t worry about it. A guy I compete with, (fellow linebacker) Shaun Dolac, my counterpart and my partner, it’s just get to the ball and be the best for my teammates because at the end of the day I just want to win. I don’t care about tackles, I just want to win.”
Perhaps the future blueprint will reunite James with his twin brother Jaret. He laughs at the idea, one he has already heard from Jaret.
“He always talks about it,” Patterson said. “He’s a football junkie. He really loves football. He tells me, ‘you’re going to come with me and we’re going to take over this thing.’ I would love to, but whatever God has in store for me, it’s for me. I’m just enjoying the process.”