Small Patton makes bigger plays

Solomon Patton is not exactly the biggest man on the 2012 Florida Gators roster. Measuring in at only 5-foot-9, Patton stands a full four inches shorter than starting wide receiver Quinton Dunbar. Of course, at 6-foot-1 Dunbar himself is even considered to be on the shorter end of the wide receiver spectrum.

He does not have the most offensive experience. As a freshman in 2010, Patton rarely saw the field as a wide receiver, catching four passes for 27 yards, good for a 6.8 yard average per reception. The 2011 season was more of the same for the shortest wide receiver on scholarship for the Gators, as Patton was only able to get his hands on three passes, although they went for a few more yards, 35, for an 11.7 yards-per-catch average.

Football is never just about the raw numbers, however; nor is this a one-size-fits all game.

For two seasons, Patton knew that he would not be seeing the field as a wide receiver, but he kept his chin up, and sought out other ways to help out his program.

“I’ve been working my butt off. I feel like that’s got a lot to do with it and staying positive and having a great attitude.”

As a key member of the Florida Gators special teams units over the last two years, not only does Patton have a punt return for a touchdown to his name (the 2010, 42-yard return is his only score for Florida thus far) but perhaps more importantly he has shown the ability to play far bigger than his frame.

One might be led to assume that in order to get a hand up to block a field goal or a punt a player, physically, might need to stand in at 6-foot-4 and have arms that span nearly seven feet.

Patton proved that type of mindset will only get you burned, and badly at that. Not only did Patton block a punt on the national stage, in his team’s 2011 Outback Bowl victory over Penn State, but he managed to block a second punt to open his sophomore campaign against Florida Atlantic.

As the 2012 season continues to unfold, Patton is proving once again that counting out the little guy will, indeed, get you burned as he carves out a niche for himself not as a role player or special teamer, but as an integral component of newly-hired offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s complicated system. What Pease has seen from the junior is exactly what fans have been expecting from yet another in a long line of talented speedsters who chose to play at Florida.

“Size doesn’t matter to me if he can run. He’s got speed, and he’s a consistent catcher.”

Through the team’s first two games of the 2012 season, however, Patton has yet to record a catch, yikes.

Thus, just as he did through his special teams play for two years, he and Pease have begun finding more creative ways of getting this speedy young junior the ball out in space. Of course, Brent Pease has not been here over the last few years, but the Gators were able to enjoy some measure of success with another mini-Gators star athlete, Chris Rainey. Patton’s running ability has drawn a few comparisons in the early going, but he understands that he has a long way to go before even beginning to duplicate some of the things Rainey was able to do on a football field.

“As far as speed, obviously Rainey is a real fast player. I could probably say I’m close as far as speed to Rainey … It’s just about getting the ball in my hands as many times as I can. Being able to get the feel of the game.”

In the Gators’ improbable comeback win at Texas A&M, Patton showed exactly how this mindset has made him successful early on this season. As the team worked to kill the clock in the fourth quarter, Pease trusted Patton with running for a long first down, and no one in all of Gator Nation was disappointed with the results. He is currently second on the team in rushing yards with 37 on only four carries.

“They just try to get me the ball as fast as they can, put me on the edge. I mean, we practice that play at practice every day. It’s all about the timing, so that’s really basically it. Just trying to get me the ball as fast as they can so I can try to make a person miss.”

Chris Rainey, a small as he was out on Florida Field, left some big shoes to fill.

Patton is looking more and more like just the right size.