Winnfield (La.) head coach Andy Pyles knows a good thing when he sees it.
Back in 2009, Pyles was sitting in his coaches office one day when in strolled a 6-foot-2, 14-year-old freshman named Michael “M.J.” Patterson.
“I got a call from Coach (Bernie) Cooley and he told me I was going to be getting a transfer and he told me about MJ and how much potential he had,” recalled Pyles. “I thought, yea right, this kid is just going to walk in and then the next thing I know MJ just walks in. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least.”
Patterson had been in the Jena school system prior to moving to Winnfield. Pyles said Patterson made an immediate impact for the Tigers as he was basically a starter during his freshman season. But as it turned out that was just the tip of the iceberg.
As a sophomore, Patterson made his mark on both sides of the ball as he caught 30 passes and was in on more than 70 tackles from his defensive end spot.
Patterson worked hard with the Winnfield coaches during the spring and summer of 2011 and he and the Tigers were poised to have a successful campaign in the fall. Winnfield finished with a 14-1 record with the only blemish at the hands of John Curtis in the Class 2A State Championship Game.
Patterson was a big part of the Tigers’ success as he logged 75 tackles and 10 sacks, and picked off two passes that he returned for touchdowns. The accolades rolled in following his junior campaign as he was Class 2A All-State to go along with first team All-District 3-2A honors and a first team All-CENLA selection by the Alexandria Daily Town Talk.
Several college coaches recognized Patterson’s skills on the gridiron early on as he picked up offers from Nebraska, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. Once LSU stepped up with an offer, though, everyone else was playing catch-up until he committed to Les Miles a few weeks ago.
Pyles is no stranger to coaching high-profile FBS-level prospects and he feels that Patterson has just what LSU and other major programs are looking for.
“His quickness and feet are exceptional and his long arms are a big asset,” said Pyles. “He’s blessed with good feet and he has good explosion off the line of scrimmage. That’s why LSU loves him so much is his ability to rush the passer.
“He’s 6-foot-4, 232 pounds right now and he’s going to get a lot bigger when he gets to LSU and is able to get in the weight room year round. When you see him up next to guys like Sam Montgomery, (KeKe) Mingo, (Jermauria) Rasco, and the others you see just how good MJ looks.”
Pyles said that one of Patterson’s strengths is using his athleticism to make plays from sideline to sideline and he shows that on film. Something else that stands out on tape is his football IQ as he keeps his containment and diagnoses where the play is going very quickly.
"He’s a smart guy, and we watch a lot of film, but to his credit he absorbs everything he sees,” Pyles said. “Him being intelligent is another big plus. You don’t have to show him something 20 times because he gets it pretty quick.”
Along with being an exceptional talent on the field, Patterson is just as impressive outside the lines. He shows just as much dedication to his academics and with being a role model for his younger siblings and loved ones.
“I think his behavior patterns had already been established by the time he got to us and that’s a credit to those who had worked with MJ, and he has a real good mom and dad and is well taken care of,” Pyles said.” He’s got a younger brother and a little sister that is autistic so he feels that he has to be a good role model and he does a great job of being one.
“His mom is a nurse and has done a real good job of stressing education and how important it is to succeed in life. MJ sees the things she has done and that has helped him become the young man he is.”
Patterson has shown that he can handle success as he has remained very humble about his accomplishments and the road he has taken. He has also shown that he can overcome bumps in the road, such as not being able to be with his father during this exciting time as he resides a couple of hours away.
“His dad has been and is a big part of MJ’s life,” Pyles said. “He stays on him about his grades and decisions in life and has been there for him during the recruiting process. When MJ wanted to commit to LSU he made sure he went and talked to his dad first to get his approval and they have always been and remain very close.”
Pyles has enjoyed being around Patterson for the last three years and he’s excited to have his star defender for one more year as the Tigers seek a return trip to the Superdome. After that, Patterson will embark on a different journey for another set of Tigers.
Expectations will be high once he steps foot on campus in Baton Rouge with the success that LSU has at turning high school prospects into NFL-caliber defensive linemen. Whether or not Patterson lives up to those expectations remains to be seen, but it would not be wise to bet against him.
“He’s going to be afforded a great opportunity but he’s going to be the one to determine how good he can be,” Pyles said. “It’s his opportunity to seize.
“He definitely has the ability and if he gets after it in the weight room his potential is very high. He has the tools. He just has to take the bull by the horns and go with it like he’s done.”
Note: Pyles said Patterson has a GPA in the 3.2-3.5 range and took the ACT for the first time on April 14. Pyles also stated that Patterson will not have any problems being a full academic qualifier.