ORONO, Maine — Cornerback is one of the most challenging positions on the football field.
A lot of the time, you find yourself matched up against a talented receiver who knows exactly where he is going and when he expects the pass to find his hands.
But that is exactly the type of challenge University of Maine sophomore corner Manny Patterson loves.
He was chosen as UMaine’s Defensive Rookie of the Year last season as an 18-year-old freshman after leading the team with 10 pass breakups. That was ninth best in the Colonial Athletic Association. He played in all 11 games, starting nine of them, and registered 23 tackles.
“You’re out there on an island. You’re out there on your own and everybody is looking at you, especially if they have a receiver they like to go to. I just say ‘I hope they do, I hope they do,” said Patterson in explaining why he enjoys the position.
“That’s why he came in and started as a freshman,” said UMaine defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman. “That’s the type of stuff we want to see.”
Patterson said he was a “little surprised” that he was able to have the kind of freshman season he did but he added that “I knew what I could do. I wasn’t too surprised I was out there proving myself right.”
One man who wasn’t surprised by his success was UMaine defensive backs coach Matt Birkett, who recruited him.
“The first time I saw him was at Rutgers (Elite) Camp. I was watching him compete in one-on-ones and he was, by far, the best corner there,” said Birkett.
“He has God-given ability. He came in as probably one of the best athletes on the team…his speed, explosiveness, in-and-out, feet, hips. He just had it all,” said Birkett.
“Corner is one of those positions guys should be able to come in and play right away especially with what we do, press man (man-to-man). If you can play press-man, you can play for us,” Birkett added.
Press man is when the cornerback lines up close to the receiver at the line of scrimmage and he hits or jams him within five yards of the line. It is sometimes referred to as the bump-and-run.
“He has very good technique,” said Hetherman. “He is a football guy. He really studies the game and it translates onto the field. He works at it and he’s fast. He’s one of the three fastest players on the team and that obviously helps.”
In addition to being a first team all-conference football player at Mount Saint Joseph High School in his native Baltimore, Patterson was also an outstanding sprinter on the track team.
He has run the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds, which set the school record before it was broken this year. He still has the school record for the 200 meters at 21.89 seconds.
He has run the 55 meters in 6.53 seconds.
“He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” said UMaine senior cornerback Najee Goode. “He is very intelligent. Other guys may take four or five reps to fix a mistake but he only needs two or three and that’s a big difference.”
Patterson also has the work ethic needed to become a top-notch corner.
“He’s all business,” said Birkett. “He’s always trying to learn, he’s always trying to get better. He’s always been a front of the class guy.”
“I definitely work hard at it. You’ve got to, especially if you want to get to where I want to get which is the NFL. I worked hard all four years of high school and I’m still working hard now,” said Patterson.
Patterson admitted that he was “forced” into being a cornerback in high school.
“My coach said ‘What position do you play?’ I said ‘running back.’ He said ‘No, you’re a cornerback,” recalled Patterson. “So I said ‘All right.’ I looked up corners and I thought I could get the hang of this. I wasn’t too good my first year but I got better at it and I kept improving.”
Patterson had a lot to learn last season beginning with the technique and the press man coverage.
“It was different but it was good. I liked it a lot,” said Patterson who added that he was happy with his performance.
Standing just 5-foot-10, weighing only 170 pounds and being a true freshman, that meant Patterson knew opponents were going to target him.
The son of Frank and Shedana Patterson said he’d like to think some of his opponents “regretted” throwing in his direction.
Rural Orono is a far cry from urban Baltimore but Patterson said he was sold on UMaine during his visit.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the coaches,” he said.
“And he wanted to play against the best. We play two FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams every year and that was one of the major factors,” said Birkett.
UMaine is one of the few Football Championship Subdivision programs that plays two FBS teams every year. Most play just one.
Patterson is looking for a better year this season.
“I’ve worked on my coverage. I’m working on getting some pics (interceptions). I want to improve my whole game overall,” said Patterson who didn’t have an interception last year.
“I’m really excited about him,” said Hetherman. “He has had a real good camp so far. He is bigger and stronger now. Last year, he came in not having the benefit of a college weight room. Now that he has, it will be a huge help for him.
“I’m also looking for some improvement in his communication and technique stuff and for him to excel (in those areas). And we want to make sure he’s locked in all the time,” said Hetherman.
“We’re just trying to get his hands on some footballs now,” said Birkett. “He was always in position. I’m hoping the game slows down just a little bit for him where he can actually dominate a receiver and get his hands on a couple of those.”
Patterson would like to help the Black Bears land a playoff spot this season after they barely missed out a year ago when the University of New Hampshire beat them 24-21 in the regular season finale. UMaine wound up 6-5 overall, 5-3 in the CAA.
UMaine opens at UNH on Thursday, Aug. 31.