Yorktown senior football player Chandler Carroll heard a pop. A good pop. The Tigers ran a sweep play in practice, if Carroll recalls correctly, and safety Mason Patterson had dropped a big hit on the ballcarrier. To Carroll, it was clear Patterson was back.
Patterson, a safety known for his ability to deliver big hits (he was Yorktown’s leading tackler in 2011 and 2012), had just returned from injury. And he wasn’t shying away from contact. After missing the regular season, Patterson has returned to the field in both of Yorktown’s (10-1) playoff wins. Yorktown will host West Lafayette at 7:30 p.m. today in the Class 3A Sectional 28 championship game.
In last week’s win against Northwestern, Yorktown had a dominant defensive performance, holding its opponent to seven points. Northwestern failed to complete one-third of its passes, and was held to 67 rushing yards, most of those coming late in the game with the result no longer in doubt in the 49-7 rout.
Patterson snagged an interception in the win. And to Carroll, it’s no coincidence that his team had a huge defensive performance with Patterson back on the field.
“It’s a direct correlation,” Carroll said. “He’s someone, definitely on defense, I look up to. I’m not going to lie, whenever I see him across the field, because he’s the scout defense king. It doesn’t matter if he’s on scout defense or anything, he’s definitely intimidating on defense.”
Patterson tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in a knee last summer. Yet the senior was determined to return to the field this season. He pushed the boundaries of his rehab routine, running in the mornings, and working out with whatever teammates he could find. Carroll remembers encouraging Patterson to return, though he wasn’t sure if he actually believed his teammate could come back from such an injury so quickly.
To Patterson, his thoughts about rehabbing were simple. If he wasn’t going to make a return to the field, he would do so knowing he had done everything he could to get back. He had surgery on July 17, and it took him just three months to return to the gridiron.
Patterson remembers the doctor’s appointment at which he was cleared. His doctor did some simple tests and felt he was ready. Patterson had left school early and hadn’t planned to return. But he rushed back, eager to tell his teammates and coaches. He couldn’t wait to tell head coach Mike Wilhelm, informing him via text message.
Patterson brought his parents with him to that doctor’s appointment. He wanted to have them testify to his doctor that he was ready to play.
“It felt like life was over,” Patterson said of the initial injury. “Football was everything I ever wanted to play. I dropped every other sport just to focus on football. And (my parents) knew that. And I heard the news, and of course I cried. But then they saw how hard I worked to get the opportunity to play again.”
Wilhelm said he and his coaching staff view Patterson as similar to having a coach on the field. Along with his physical capabilities, Patterson is also one of the Tigers’ best communicators on the defensive side of the ball, combined with a thorough understanding of the defensive scheme. So Wilhelm has seen his defense improve its communication on the field since Patterson has returned.
“He just brings an attitude to our defense that we have been missing this year,” Wilhelm said. “A little nastiness, a lot of communication, and he’s a playmaker. And we saw that against Northwestern. Made a huge interception, and a huge knockdown pass, and a huge tackle. He’s a playmaker. He’s making plays all over the field.”