Through injury and disappointment, 'selfless' Jarrett Patterson makes it to Senior Day for Notre Dame

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson (55) blocks during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Navy , Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

SOUTH BEND — Two scenes, one public and one private, tell the story of Jarrett Patterson’s final college season.

Two scenes, equally important, explain why Saturday’s Senior Day walk out to midfield was to be so meaningful for the Notre Dame offensive lineman and the teammates and coaches who owe him so much.  

The first one, everybody saw. It happened on the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 10, in the raw aftermath of that stunning Week 2 loss to Marshall.

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Yes, Marshall. Twenty-point underdog Marshall.

Seems like half a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

Here was the two-time senior captain and preseason All-American, his sprained right foot screaming in pain, hobbling away from his shocked teammates and refusing to sing the “Alma Mater.” Patterson ripped off his jersey and shoulder pads and was headed for the tunnel when former Irish lineman Hunter Bivin stopped him in his tracks.

“It wasn’t about me,” the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder from Laguna Hills, Calif., would say three weeks later. “Just knowing how hard those guys worked and seeing the looks on their faces after the game, it just got me a little angry. It was just frustration.”

Too hurt physically to play at Ohio State in the opener and too hurt emotionally to accept an embarrassing loss and an 0-2 start, Patterson threw what looked to the world like a tantrum.

It wasn’t meant that way.

“It’s hard to see the heat I took for it after,” he said. “I understand why people were upset, but it wasn’t intended as disrespect to the university or to anyone or trying to be selfish. I had very high expectations for this team. I still do. In that moment, it was just really disappointing.”

The second scene unfolded on the practice field on Oct. 20. With Marcus Freeman in charge, Thursdays this fall meant hearing from the seniors.

On this night, it was Patterson’s turn to speak.

Another stunning home loss, this time to Stanford, had dropped the Irish back to .500 after a three-game winning streak. Suddenly, the season felt at risk again of spiraling out of control.

“Jarrett is not a man of many words,” senior right guard Josh Lugg said, “but when he gets going, it really fuels the guys. You know when Jarrett is talking, it’s coming from the heart.”

The circle moved in tighter, and Patterson again found himself looking into the searching faces of his teammates. Frustration welled up inside of him, but this time he harnessed that passion and made it transferrable.

“He was just like, ‘We need to go!’ “ Lugg said. “And he just starts screaming. Everybody was like, ‘Yeah!’ “

Lugg laughed at the memory, and then he turned serious again.

“That was a moment where it got everybody going,” Lugg said. “It was out of character for him, but it also wasn’t because it was something he was holding in his heart. And he just was like, ‘I’m going to let it loose.’ “

Since that Thursday night, Notre Dame hasn’t lost again.

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Ignoring the pain

When it comes to Patterson’s legacy at Notre Dame, maybe it’s not as tidy as some would like.

For instance, he’s a four-year starter, but he missed out on both College Football Playoff appearances. He was Sam Mustipher’s understudy for the semifinal loss to Clemson in 2018, and then a Lisfranc fracture in Patterson’s left foot caused him to miss the 2020 semifinal loss to Alabama.

That injury happened against Boston College, which Patterson finally gets to face again on this Senior Day.

Another setback came in March, when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle during weight training and missed all of spring practice. That seemingly ended any temptation for assistant Harry Hiestand to move Patterson to left guard, especially after he’d made all 34 career starts at center.

The Irish won 30 of those games.  

Yet when training camp opened in August, there was Patterson at a strange new position. The preseason All-America center willingly went along with the guru’s assessment that the best five-man line would put Patterson on the left side in between sophomore tackle Joe Alt and redshirt junior Zeke Correll.

“There’s so many positives with Jarrett that nobody sees because they happen behind closed doors,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said. “The things he’s gone through injury-wise and to switch positions and be selfless about it and do what’s best for the team — he’s given everything he’s had to our program, to our players.”

A week and a half into training camp, Patterson went down again. It happened at a Monday night scrimmage out at Penn High School, and there were no guarantees how soon Patterson would be able to return.

It would all depend, Freeman said, on his pain tolerance.

Patterson went through pregame warmups at Ohio State, but clearly wasn’t ready. He willed himself back into the lineup for the Marshall game and had played all but nine of a possible 642 offensive snaps.

That minibreak came in the final minutes of a comfortable road win at Syracuse.

Patterson joked in early October that he has “the most expensive foot in the Gug.”

The training staff worked around the clock to get him to the post each week.

“They’re doing everything they can for me,” Patterson said on Oct 4. “I have a whole crazy setup. I have a metal plate in there. I have a special ultra-custom insert to help keep my arch supported and I have a special tape job as well.”

Gradually, his foot began to cooperate.

“The first couple weeks, practicing and playing, the recovery time was really hard,” he said after the bye week. “Now it will be sore at night and after games, but the recovery period is a lot quicker compared to halfway through the game (when) I was starting to feel it.”

And those Tuesday practices, the ones so intense players started calling them “Bloody Tuesday”? Patterson did his best to ignore the pain.

“It was like, ‘Man, I still feel like it’s hurting,’ “ Patterson said.

That was seven games ago.

'Ultimate ironman'

It’s hardly an accident that Rees and Lugg both use the same word to describe Patterson.

Warrior.

“He never complained,” Lugg said. “He never hung his head. He fights through. He’s gritty. He’s fun to be around. He’s the kind of guy that’s contagious with his energy, who’s been very well-respected in this program and is very passionate about Notre Dame football.”

It’s no accident either that with Patterson by his side, Alt is having a breakout season at left tackle. Or that by the second half against California, Patterson was right in the middle of a line that could take control of a game.

“His poise and his confidence on the field makes everyone else calm down and relax,” Alt said. “He really sets the tone for the offensive line, and we follow along. Just being in so many scenarios, he knows it going in. Before the game even starts, he knows what to expect.”

If that’s reassuring for a young player, imagine what it means to a first-time head coach.

“J-Patt is the ultimate ironman,” Freeman said. “Just a guy that has battled multiple injuries, even before I got here, but has continued to sacrifice and continued to work and plays the game at such a high level.”

Regardless of what his body might be telling him.

“To this day, he’s not 100 percent,” Freeman said. “He’s been injured all season, but he just goes out there and he practices and he plays. He could easily be a guy that says, “I’m not going to play. I’m going to wait until the NFL and I’m going to save my body.’ He doesn’t. He sacrifices his body for this university and this football program.”

That’s why no one inside the football building held it against Patterson after he stormed off during the “Alma Mater.” If anyone had earned the right to blow off a little steam, it was Patterson.

“The frustration he showed after Marshall is what is expected by any competitor that loses a game you don’t feel like you should lose,” Freeman said. “He is a great leader and he was emotional after a tough loss, but he’s also a guy that can raise the play of others and raise the mentality of others. And that’s important.”

Throughout his career, Patterson has shown the ability to do that with his words, his actions and an intensity that has proven to be transferrable.

“That’s what leaders do,” Freeman said. “Leaders make other people better, and that’s what Jarrett Patterson is. I’m forever in debt to Jarrett Patterson.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.