Blazing a football trail at Huntingdon
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
Starting something from scratch, playing where no one had played before. The appeal of being a college football pioneer drew Hartselle High's Hodge Patterson to Huntingdon College in Montgomery.
"The coaches told me I'd be part of the first ever team at Huntingdon," Patterson said, explaining his college choice. "It's something special to build a program and start something from the ground up. I wanted to be part of it."
Patterson, now a sophomore for the Hawks, has recorded 32 solo stops and assisted on 37 more tackles in eight games. He continues to make big plays from his inside linebacker position as seen in his six tackles for 12 yards in losses, two sacks for seven yards lost, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Huntingdon deploys a 3-4 defensive alignment, which suits Patterson just fine.
"This defense forces everyone to play aggressively," Patterson said. "It's a style I enjoy playing."
Patterson, who was a member of the 2002 Hartselle team, which reached the 5A state semi-finals, doesn't take any credit for his on-field success.
"Steven Hicks, he's our linebacker coach, he's the reason I'm having a good year," Patterson said. "He does a great job of preparing us. He lets us know where we need to be. He puts us in position to make plays. I've been in the right spot at the right time."
Patterson, who is pursuing a degree in business administration, suffered along with his teammates in the Hawks' first season of play. In 2003, Huntingdon went 0-7 competing in NCAA Division III. They proceeded to lose their opening four games of this season, as well.
Since then the Hawks fortunes have turned. Huntingdon has won four of its last five games to improve to 4-5 this season, with one game left on the schedule.
Through the year-and-a-half of losing Patterson never gave up hope of being part of a winner.
"(Head) Coach (Mike) Turk always kept our attitudes up high," Patterson said. "He always kept us positive. He convinced us we could win if we played our best. He said it was just a matter of mental preparation and working on the little things in practice."
The first victory finally came Oct. 9, when Huntingdon downed Southwestern Assemblies of God at home, 35-21.
"The sideline and the crowd were going pretty crazy," Patterson said. "Everyone was clapping and yelling. We poured Gatorade on our coach. It was a great day. It was the feeling we had been waiting on since we started the program. I can't tell you how great it felt to finally win."
Following the win, the Hawks won three straight before losing to Webber International last Saturday. Patterson thinks the first win fueled the other three wins.
"It was so great when we one the first one," Patterson said. "We didn't want to lose the feeling of winning. I think it helped us stay focused and we just kept winning for a while. We think we can play with anybody now."
Patterson blazed an individual trail for the Hawks in 2003 when he intercepted a pass against Averett College and returned the pick for a score. The play was the first defensive touchdown in school history.
"It was pretty exciting," Patterson said. "I love playing football and I'll always be in the record book as the first defender who scored for Huntingdon College. It makes me glad I decided to come here and get the program started."
Patterson, who hopes to work in for a college athletic department or in a pro team's front office some day, thinks the Hawks can achieve the goals which drew the first team of players to the Montgomery school.
"Coach Turk told us he was bringing us here to be in the D-III national rankings by the time we were juniors," Patterson said.
"We're about to join a league, which will make us eligible for the playoffs as juniors and seniors.
"For us to make the national playoffs, that would be the perfect ending to my college career."