MOBILE, Alabama — You remember them. They were the 2010 recruiting class, brought in to the University of Florida by Urban Meyer and heralded by many experts as perhaps the “best recruiting class ever.”
Was it hyperbole? Maybe, but it’s easy to look back now and poke holes in the class that at the time was thought to be the rich getting richer.
Like so many highly touted recruiting classes, it never quite lived up to the hype. Players were dismissed from the team and even more decided to transfer. Solomon Patton was almost one of those players heading for the exits early.
“I don’t really tell many people this but I honestly used to cry like every single day,” Patton told Gator Country. “I didn’t want to go to the stadium. I used to cry 24/7. I would call my mom and say I didn’t want to go inside the stadium. My first year was really rough. I cried literally like every day.”
You see, Patton came to Florida and expected to jump right into Florida’s spread option attack and be an impact player from day one. When that didn’t happen he was left in a new city, far away from his family and childhood friends and the game that he loved had seemingly turned its back on him.
“It was definitely tough; it was a long road for me,” he said. “I wanted to leave my freshman year. Like a lot of freshmen who come in to college and they want to play and don’t get the chance or aren’t ready to play in the coaches eyes. I definitely battled through all of that.”
Those first two years were tough. Patton was mainly utilized on special teams and it appeared that he didn’t have a future in the offense. He caught just seven passes and had one rushing attempt through two years.
Things appeared to turn the corner his junior season. Patton found a role in Brent Pease’s offense as the jet sweep man and the speedy receiver tallied 14 carries for 140 yards through eight games. He was finally getting an opportunity to make an impact and help the football team.
Then it all came crashing down in the biggest game of the season against hated rival Georgia.
Patton was dragged down from behind, broke his arm when he hit the ground and just like that his season was done. In the blink of an eye Patton’s firs real opportunity to be an impact player was taken away. Suddenly that sad, lonely, empty feeling he felt as a freshman paled in comparison to what he felt as a junior.
“My mindset [after the injury] was that I was done. I felt like I had just finally got my chance and then I just hit rock bottom having my arm broken,” he said. “That was the saddest time. I was sad every day, all day. My parents, everybody just tried to keep me encouraged but that was real hard. I had finally got my shot and I felt like I was doing my best to take advantage of it and it was all over. It was pretty hard.”
Patton didn’t quit. Despite having thoughts of his career possibly being over after the injury, he pushed through it. Quitting isn’t in him. It’s not in his DNA. He had opportunities. The 2010 recruiting class was a close group and as players started transferring two-by-two, many of them tried to bring Patton along with them.
When faced with adversity, rather than giving up he used it to push him.
“I’ve always been the person that never wanted to quit anything. I saw so many players come and go from my recruiting class and you have those guys saying that I should leave with them but I just kept sticking it out.”
He stayed at Florida and worked harder than he ever had before. He chose to forego opportunities to go back home and visit family. Instead choosing to stay in Gainesville and work out, gain weight and hone in on his route running.
It paid off.
Just three weeks into his senior season Patton had already surpassed all of his career numbers from the previous three seasons. He wasn’t just a guy that would come in for a handful of packages during a game, he was now a featured part of the Gators offense, their most reliable weapon.
The big senior season led Patton to being voted by his teammates as the Ray Graves Award winner — which is given out annually at the team banquet. He was also honored with the Iron Gator strength and conditioning Award, Chris Patrick courage award, offensive MVP, team MVP and was named a team captain.
Not bad for a 5-8, 180-pound soaking wet receiver from Mobile, Alabama.
Patton has parlayed that success into opportunity. He had the chance to play in the Medal of Honor game and was named MVP after hauling in three catches for 50 yards and adding a 33-yard run. He was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster where he will get the opportunity to work out for all 32 NFL teams.
It’s been a long road for Patton. He’s watched friends leave, had a daughter, gotten engaged, won 11 games in a season and seen a season go in the tank at 4-8. It was a roller coaster of a career to say the least. He may have left the University of Florida but the university will never leave him.
After talking and thinking back about his career, Patton looked up and said how he felt about the university that say him at the lowest and highest points of his life and summed everything up in seven simple words.
“I really love the University of Florida