Patrick has toughness to go with size, speed and statistics

College recruiters have told Timber Creek running back that toughness is the trait NFL teams look for

Buddy Collings predicts the winners for six of the best games in week one of high school football.

Coveted Timber Creek running back Jacques Patrick never has stopped striving to improve, even as his stack of college scholarship offers grew past the point of being a list of options anybody realistically could consider.

As he whittled an almost endless recruitment list down to a top 10 this summer — with FSU thought to be the front-runner — the 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior also worked to improve skills such as his initial burst out of the backfield.

His attributes already include impressive speed for his size, the ball skills of the quarterback he was as a youth, and the nimble feet of the basketball forward he still is. But Patrick has discovered on the recruiting trail that being a blue-chip back is not all about athleticism.

He's an inquisitive young man who has listened and learned throughout his many campus visits and conversations with college coaches. And one of the tips he picked up on came from recruiters describing what NFL teams look for in running backs.

Patrick said several college guys told him the top item on the checklist is not a fast 40-yard dash time or cut-back agility that can be sharpened with practice. It is toughness, which some say can't be coached.

"I was surprised," Patrick said. "I was thinking maybe speed or stop-and-go or something like that."

Surprised, but also pleased to hear that a priority is placed on a trait he possesses.

Patrick is running roughshod over area records because he has proved to be a durable competitor who isn't afraid to carry the offensive load. He has averaged 22 carries a game and has yet to miss a start since beginning his high-school career as an East River ninth-grader.

"Toughness is one thing I feel like I have always brought to the table," Patrick said.

Patrick rushed for 1,162 yards as a Falcons freshman, then moved to nearby Timber Creek and piled up 2,087 yards and 31 TDs for a 10-2 team as a sophomore. He carried 231 times for 2,153 yards and 30 scores in 10 games last season to become the leading rusher in Metro Conference history with a season to go.

The Wolves will open the 2014 campaign Friday night with what could be their toughest test. They will play at Dr. Phillips, which is ranked No. 3 in Class 8A and routed Timber Creek 35-0 last season. Patrick was held to 102 yards in that loss.

If the jovial big guy matches his junior-year statistics, he would become the first area back to run for 2,000 yards in three seasons. But he needs to push the total to 2,546 to break the area career record of 7,947 set 15 years ago by former Kissimmee Osceola great Willie Green. That would place him fourth on Florida's all-time rushing list, just behind Emmitt Smith (8,804).

"I thank God for it all," Patrick said of his achievements. "It just tells you how much hard work can do for a person.''

Toughness helps.

State scene

Nationally ranked Plantation American Heritage, which will come to Central Florida this season to play at Daytona Beach Mainland (Sept. 26) and Apopka (Oct. 17), looked formidable in beating Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer 49-23 in a national-TV Kickoff Classic on Sunday.

Two other South Florida football powers were impressive on ESPN.

Miami Central stopped a 30-game winning streak by Alabama state champion Hoover by driving 80 yards for a last-minute field goal. Miami Booker T. Washington increased its Florida-leading winning streak to 27 with a 57-21 road victory against Chesapeake, Va., Oscar Smith.

Central and Booker T. will go to Georgia for games this weekend.

American Heritage will play Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas at 7 Friday night in a game that will be streamed live on FoxSportsFlorida.com and televised (Fox Sports Florida) via tape delay following the conclusion of a Marlins-Braves baseball game that night.

bcollings@tribune.com. Read Buddy at SentinelVarsity.com and on Twitter at @VarsityBuddy.

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