James Patterson excitedly recalls his first preseason practice with the University at Buffalo football team.
In the summer of 2018, he was a little nervous as a freshman, but eager to learn from others in a college football program. He and his twin brother, Jaret, had enrolled at UB in January, yet through the course of August, James Patterson quickly learned to absorb as much as he could from UB’s upperclassmen.
The Bulls open the season at noon Sept. 3 at Maryland. Here’s a look at three returning players, three FBS transfers and three newcomers to watch for UB.
Patterson saw how Matt Otwinowski, a linebacker, used his intellect to lead the position group, and how Khalil Hodge, another linebacker, strived for his best effort, every day, and demanded accountability from his teammates.
Now, Patterson is one of those players who is showing younger players the ropes of college football.
“It was a lot of fun, but there was a lot of things I really didn’t know, and a lot of things I really couldn’t know,” Patterson said. “But older guys like Jimmy O’Hagan, Khalil Hodge, Jordan Collier, Cam Lewis, Chuck Harris, guys like that, to think about it, it brings back so much joy to think about 2018 because it was such a great year, and I want to recreate that so that they know what it is and what it takes to really win a MAC championship, or to get there and win a bowl game.”
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Eight months after finishing 4-8 overall, and 2-8 in the Mid-American Conference, the University at Buffalo was picked to finish third in the East Division in the 2022 MAC football 24-person preseason media poll.
Patterson began his fifth season with the Bulls when they opened preseason practices Thursday at UB Stadium in preparation for their season opener at noon Sept. 3 at Maryland. The linebacker from Glenn Dale, Md., is using his extra year of eligibility, granted by the NCAA in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He didn’t want to leave the program after an uncharacteristic 4-8 season, either – UB’s first under-.500 season since 2016, when the Bulls were 2-10.
“4-8 is not a good look,” Patterson said. “That’s not been the known, that’s not been the recent for Buffalo football. Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been to a MAC championship game or to a bowl game, so that’s the expectation. We want to keep rising, and try to go to a New Year’s Six bowl. That’s always been the goal, to be a top 25 team, and to make it even better.”
Patterson led UB and was second in the Mid-American Conference with 116 tackles in 2021, and he returns to the Bulls after sitting out UB's spring game due to sports-hernia surgery.
He also returns to a team that underwent significant offseason roster turnover, as 21 FBS and FCS transfers and 15 true freshmen and junior-college players join this year’s roster.
“The fact that he is back, James Patterson is one of the top returning players in college football,” UB coach Maurice Linguist said. “He probably had a lot of opportunities after the season to do a lot of things, and he’s on a lot of NFL scouts' lists right now. The fact that he said, ‘I’m coming back,’ ... it tells you something, when your best players and the best people and the fact they want to come back, it speaks to what we feel like is going on in that locker room right now.
“We’re excited about the ability they bring and the leadership they’ve provided.”
Cole Snyder, a quarterback who transferred from Rutgers, noticed the leadership across the team’s upperclassmen, including Patterson.
“It’s a player-led team, and you can tell, from day one, whether it’s Max (Michel), whether it’s James, whether it’s Gabe (Wallace), and a lot of other guys, too,” said Snyder, a Southwestern High School graduate. “The best teams are always player-led teams, so when I got here and noticed that, I just wanted to get with those guys and learn from them, whatever I could. They‘ve helped me a lot, for sure.”
Patterson could have spent a fifth year in another college football program, or could have hinged his hopes on playing professional football. But there was no question as to what he wanted to do.
“It was always set here,” Patterson said. “A lot of people were telling me, ‘why don’t you do this, or why don’t you do that?’ I told them, ‘I don’t think so, because Buffalo is my second home.’
“I did something here that nobody else can do anywhere. The city shows love, and shows love for its sports teams, and I probably couldn’t find that somewhere else.”
Timetable for a starting QB
Snyder, Matt Myers, Casey Case and Brian Plummer are competing to become the starting quarterback this season. Linguist outlined his timetable for when he hopes the Bulls will have their starter set for the season opener at Maryland.
“We have 30 days before we kick off, so it’s very practical to say that going into that game week, we’ll have 6-7 practices strictly devoted to Maryland,” Linguist said. “We’ll have it settled, but we want to have it happen organically, over the course of training camp. We have two preseason scrimmages that are coming up, one in eight or nine days away, and we’ll have another one following that next week, and we’re going to even out some of those reps, evaluate the film and then the guy we’re going to make our signal-caller, I think it’s going to be very clear to the team.
“There’s going to be a lot of clarity based off how they play, that as much it’s a head coach decision, it’s a player and it’s a performance decision, as well.”