It started more than four years ago when a kid from Mobile, Alabama chose to leave the state and attend the University of Florida. Solomon Patton was excited to get his college career started, playing for then head coach Urban Meyer and the Gators.
But things didn’t go as planned. Patton was used sparingly his freshman year and even thought about transferring away from Florida. He met his fiancé at the end of his freshman season and decided to stay. It was a decision that didn’t really pan out to be the best choice until his senior year.
After suffering a shoulder injury that ended his junior campaign prematurely, Patton returned to Gainesville in 2013 on a mission. He led the Gators in receptions (44), receiving yards (556) and touchdowns (6) last season, while also returning 22 kicks for an SEC-best 29.18 yard-per-return average and a touchdown.
Patton garnered an invitation to the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl and earned offensive MVP honors after racking up 98 all-purpose yards. That performance combined with a strong senior season garnered him a Senior Bowl invitation.
It didn’t, however, earn Patton an invitation to the NFL combine, something that fueled him to train harder and make the most of the opportunity afforded to him at Florida’s pro day.
“I had a big chip on my shoulder,” he said after finishing up at Florida’s pro day. “I was so mad about that but it just made me work hard and it actually gave me more time to better myself and get better so I can come out here and perform.”
And perform is exactly what he did. Patton was unofficially timed at 4.33 and 4.31 by Gator Country in the 40-yard dash on Monday and those number’s reflect what scouts told Patton he ran, “A lot of mid-to-low 4.3’s, It made me feel good. Definitely I feel fast,” he said.
The running conditions were far from optimal. Rain forced the players inside for the 40-yard dash, running on the indoor track inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Patton also ran his 40-yard dash barefoot after slipping in his sneakers on his first attempt and ran the 40-yard dash after running a 60-yard cone drill.
Speed is his game. A shorter receiver, Patton’s biggest gifts are his agility and quickness. He’s a guy that can do a lot of things on the football field and it is all centered on his speed. Patton used the pro day platform to show that, while fast feet may be his best attribute, he isn’t just a fineness player.
Patton put up 16 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press, a number that would have tied him for ninth among receivers at the NFL Combine. Patton’s 16-reps tied Clemson receiver — and projected top-10 pick — Sammy Watkins’s total from the combine. Patton also posted more reps that Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin (who is 6-5, 240-pounds) and Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans (6-5, 231-pounds).
“Solomon looked great,” Will Muschamp said on Monday. “He’s bulked up a little bit.”
Putting up the impressive number on the bench press shows more than just pure strength. Sure, the big number is impressive for a receiver who is well short of six-feet tall, but what it really shows is Patton’s serious approach to the game and how dedicated he is to doing what is necessary to play at the highest level.
“A lot of the questions that the scouts and the coaches have is to see how a guy prepares himself for the combine or for a pro day,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, he’s worked extremely hard to prepare himself for this day.”
After the rest of the pro day participants had finished working out and talking to reporters there was one player still working on the field in front of a handful of scouts and coaches. It was Patton, fielding punts on the Florida practice fields.
“There’s no question he’s going to find a role, it’s just fit,” Muschamp said. “Some teams as far as the slot receiver and a guy that can play in the slot that has return skill. Great kickoff returner, a great [special] teams guy. One of the better kickoff cover guys I’ve ever been around, then you look at the amount of blocked punts he had here.”
Patton is a long shot to get drafted this April but he hopes to get a call and an opportunity from one team this April.
Until then he’ll keep working
“I feel like I did good in everything,” Patton said. “The scouts pulled me to the side and said I did a good job today. I feel like I did a good job all-around.”