TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When Jacques Patrick says he remembers the day that Jimbo Fisher offered him a scholarship to Florida State, he really means it.
It was during the spring of Patrick’s freshman year at Orlando’s Timber Creek High School, nearly six months before he would begin to emerge as one of the state’s top young running backs, that the two met during a visit to Tallahassee.
“April 14, 2012,” Patrick said at FSU’s annual Media Day. “He offered me a scholarship and it was mind-blowing. I didn’t know what a scholarship offer was.”
Over the next few years, Patrick learned plenty about scholarship offers. While at Timber Creek, he racked up an eye-popping 7,922 rushing yards and 103 touchdowns, a five-star rating from the recruiting analysts at Rivals.com and, more importantly, scholarship offers from more than 50 college football programs around the country.
Patrick counted heavyweights like Southern California, LSU, Alabama and Texas among his pursuers, and he took official visits to Texas A&M and Ohio State.
Most of those suitors, though, arrived after Patrick had broken through as a prep football star. As Patrick remembers it, only Fisher saw his potential before he started putting up big numbers.
So when it came time to put pen to paper on National Signing Day in 2015, Patrick had already long decided where he would spend the next few years.
“I always had in the back of my head, this man (Fisher) is the first person to ever believe in me,” Patrick said. “I’ll never forget that. And now I get the opportunity to really repay him for it.”
Does he ever. For the last two seasons, Patrick had a front-row seat as Dalvin Cook dazzled with highlight after highlight while rewriting the Florida State rushing record book.
But Cook is gone now, already making a fast first impression with the Minnesota Vikings. And the pressure to replace his production – he accounted for more than 37 percent of FSU’s total offense last year – is one of the biggest questions facing the Seminoles in 2017.
No one understands that better than Patrick.
“I know where the bar is set,” he said.
Patrick feels the weight of the situation, but rather than buckle under it, Patrick is embracing his new responsibilities.
He projects a calm, confident demeanor when discussing his expectations for himself, and said that watching the way Cook handled himself provided the perfect roadmap for success.
By following Cook’s example – Patrick calls it “the blueprint” – Patrick has revamped his approach to playing the position, not only on Saturdays but during the week as well.
He said he’s added lean muscle, which has allowed him to look noticeably slimmer in practice while still maintaining his 230-pound playing weight. And tight end Ryan Izzo recently said that Patrick has emerged as a more vocal presence in the huddle.
To running backs coach Jay Graham, that process has been in the works for a while.
“It really started last year and the year before,” Graham said. “Understanding that you’ve always got to be ready, be prepared for the situation when an opportunity comes up. Just taking the reps in practice like a starter. He started doing those things and it’s starting to show right now.”
Added Patrick: “The opportunities were scarce with Dalvin in the backfield, such a great talent. But now being a featured guy, I’m ready to showcase my abilities. Because I’m very confident in what I’ve got.”
He’s not the only one.
At his press conference last week, Fisher was asked if he planned to use a committee-style approach at running back this season, a reasonable question given that Cook is gone and FSU has seven scholarship running backs on its roster, including a pair of five-star freshmen in Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn.
Fisher, however, quickly did away with that notion.
“No, Jacques is the starting back,” he said. “He’s earned that right. He’ll compete with other guys, (but) he looks great. His body looks great. He can catch, he can run, he has proven he can do it at a good level. …
“He can be ‘The Guy.’”
Indeed, even with Cook the unquestioned focal point of FSU’s offense over the last few years, Patrick still made the most of his rare opportunities.
He’s averaged 5.4 yards per carry in his first two years and has twice topped the 100-yard mark – once as a freshman when Cook sat out a game with an ankle injury, and again last year as part of a 478-yard team rushing outburst at South Florida.
“Dalvin taught him a lot, showed him the ropes, how to be a great running back,” said junior receiver Nyqwan Murray, a fellow Orlando native and a childhood friend of Patrick’s.
“And I feel like Jacques is ready to take that next step.”
That means producing on game days. But it also means setting the right example for FSU’s new wave of running backs, the same way Cook did for him.
Patrick said that each of the seven – fifth-year senior Ryan Green, redshirt junior Johnathan Vickers, sophomore Amir Rasul and freshmen Akers, Laborn and Zaquandre White are the others – all bring a unique personality to the running backs room and a little something different to the field.
Their goal, he said, is to replicate the modern running back legacy at the University of Alabama, which recently has enjoyed a steady stream of star running backs, two of which have won the Heisman Trophy.
Perhaps it’s only appropriate that, with Patrick leading the way, the Seminole backs will get a chance to measure up to the Crimson Tide on Sept. 2.
“We’re trying to get this thing like Alabama running backs,” Patrick said. “We’ve got that type of talent here. I feel like we have the best stable in the country and it’s going to be a great year.”