MOBILE, Ala. — Fittingly, it was a long, indirect path that Matt Patchan took to today's Senior Bowl.
Called on Tuesday night as an injury replacement, the Armwood High graduate and former Florida Gator was up at 4:30 a.m., caught two flights and made a quick drive to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, where he was only a few minutes late for his first practice Wednesday.
"A lot of kids want to be here. I was totally excited and jumped on the opportunity right away," said the 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle, whose long hair reaches the numbers on the back of his jersey. "I came right from the airport. I didn't know any of the plays. But it's good to be out here with the guys. I've played against near half the guys here."
Patchan, 23, played this past season, his sixth, at Boston College, getting a fresh start as a graduate transfer after five seasons limited by injuries at UF.
How long has he been in college football? He's the last remnant of Florida's 2008 national championship team. That was long enough ago, his first coordinator, Charlie Strong, now coaches Texas after four seasons coaching Louisville. The Gators assistant who recruited him, Dan Mullen, watched Wednesday's practice preparing for his sixth season as Mississippi State's coach.
Patchan, who began his career as a defensive tackle, persisted through a wild assortment of injuries sustained both on the field and off. In May 2008, he was shot in the left shoulder as a bystander at a park in Brandon. He later injured his left knee in the first of two scooter accidents. He lost enough time to injuries, including a torn pectoral muscle and broken right wrist — he played in 27 games in five seasons at Florida — that the NCAA granted him a sixth season of eligibility.
Patchan spent that in Boston.
"The whole city is fanatical about sports," he said. "It was a great atmosphere for me to be up there experiencing new stuff like cold weather."
Patchan found stability in the fall with the Eagles and coach Steve Addazio, a Florida offensive assistant for Patchan's first three seasons there. He started all 13 games at left tackle, helping a program that went 2-10 in 2012 become a 7-6 bowl team and Andre Williams rush for 2,177 yards and 18 scores.
"He's been very, very productive," Addazio told the Boston Globe in November. "He's got a tremendous demeanor. He was a guy who had been around national championships. So he could come in here, in a nonboastful kind of way, and give some good perspective."
Patchan dabbled a little bit of everywhere this past season — "left tackle, right tackle, fullback, tight end, wide receiver," he said.
The Senior Bowl is one of the biggest on-field showcase prospects have to impress scouts. The rosters include potential first-round picks in quarterback Derek Carr of Fresno State and pass-rusher Trent Murphy of Stanford. But it's also a platform for players simply trying to get on the radar.
Patchan still faces difficult odds to make it in the NFL. ESPN ranks him 50th among offensive tackles, and only 17 were selected a year ago. He left the Gators with degrees in anthropology and sociology, and now is working on a business degree with no regrets about his college career.
"I love Florida. I learned a lot there, played under great coaches, played with great players," he said. "It was a great experience. I was a Florida Gator once, but I think I'll be a BC Eagle forever. I'm proud to have the story I have."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.