Editor's note: With the NFL Draft set to begin Thursday, the Times will examine the possibilities of several local prospects over the next two weeks. Today, we chronicle the chances of former Armwood lineman Matt Patchan and former Alonso defensive tackle Demonte McAllister.
TAMPA — Matt Patchan could have taken the easy way out.
There was the torn ACL in 2009, his sophomore year at Florida. Injuries again wiped out his 2010 and 2012 seasons. He was shot in 2008 at a Brandon park, the victim of a stray bullet. There were two nasty scooter accidents, a broken wrist and a torn pectoral muscle.
And a litany of doubters.
"Oh I heard it all," Patchan said. "People wrote me off. I was this big-time recruit."
Coming out of Armwood in 2007, few were bigger. Patchan was a USA Today first-team All-American his senior season. He earned five-star ratings from all the major recruiting services and was a two-time All-State lineman. Patchan was considered one of the top 10 players — at any position — in the country.
"Missing all that time, man, that was tough on him," said Patchan's father, Matt Patchan III. "One thing young people today struggle with is gratification delay. It's not easy to have to wait for things."
Compounding Patchan's lengthy injury history, his time at Florida also was confounded by a myriad of position and coaching changes. Patchan was switched to defensive tackle as a freshman and shuffled all along the offensive line the remaining years.
"I had five different position coaches in five years," he said. "I was all over the place."
After playing in just 27 games in his five years at Florida, Patchan was granted a sixth year of eligibility and when Urban Meyer stepped down at Florida, Patchan transferred to Boston College. Last year — his first full healthy college season — Patchan was named second-team All-ACC. He started all 13 games at left tackle, helping a program that went 2-10 in 2012 become a 7-6 bowl team and running back Andre Williams rush for 2,177 yards and 18 scores.
"When we beat NC State to become bowl eligible, the whole student body rushed the field and the whole school was into it," Patchan said. "We won a national championship (in 2008) at UF but I'd never had a feeling like that, where the whole school comes together. We changed the culture up there."
If it sounds like Patchan doesn't have any regrets about his odyssey, it's because he doesn't.
"The way I look at it is if all those things didn't happen to me at Florida, I wouldn't have had the chance to experience what I did at BC," he said. "Wouldn't change it for the world."
That's a healthy perspective for a guy who just turned 24, but Patchan gleaned his point of view from just down the hall. Matt Patchan III also once stood out as a hotshot recruit who starred along the offensive line at Miami. The Philadelphia Eagles selected him 64th overall in the 1988 NFL Draft, but he injured his shoulder on the third day of training camp, bounced around a couple of teams and never played in a regular season game.
Then, life dealt him a cruel hand.
Doctors diagnosed the elder Patchan with a neurological disorder during his comeback attempt in 1991. His once powerful legs began to fail and in 2007, Patchan found himself in a wheelchair for life.
"It was a struggle. Frustrating," the father said. "But you have two choices: deal with it or don't."
The younger Patchan believes how his father handled the adversity helped shape his current outlook.
"What my dad has had to deal with is way beyond anything that has happened to me," he said. "If I gave up it would be a shame, an embarrassment to my family."
The expectations for Patchan coming out of high school were high, perhaps a little too high. Fair or unfair, Patchan isn't concerned. He's comfortable with where he has been, content with his accomplishments, but geared toward the future.
Patchan's 4.97 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine tied for fourth best among offensive lineman and there is a good chance his name will be called next week.
"Some people call what I've had to deal with obstacles, but I look at them as opportunities for growth," he said. "I'm proud of the journey I've taken."