PLANT CITY — Dazmond Patterson's report cards were never good enough for his mother.
Dazmond was never a bad student — he didn't get his first C until fifth grade — but he always had to live up to the high expectations of Kenyatta Shaw.
As if the pressure to be perfect wasn't enough, Dazmond compared himself with his mother side by side, grade by grade. Shaw earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Florida A&M's satellite campus in Lakeland while working as a Hillsborough County school bus driver.
"We kind of challenged each other about who could do the best," Shaw, 36, said of her son. "I always showed him, 'Look, I'm mom. I cook. I do this. I do that. And I still get the grades.' I graduated cum laude. … "
"Magna cum laude," interrupted Dazmond, now a junior and star running back at Plant City.
"See? He knows," Shaw said, smiling.
With his father in prison most of his life and his mother busy raising a family of three along with nine foster children since 2005, no one would be surprised if Dazmond stopped being the dutiful son, no longer subjecting himself to a mere five hours of sleep on school nights simply because he needed to finish his homework.
It would be very easy for the 5-foot-8, 165-pounder to be discouraged by the criticism, to give up on his dream of playing in the NFL because the scholarship offers have yet to roll in.
While he has proved to be self-motivated, Dazmond has learned a great deal from his mother en route to becoming one of the top bay area recruits in the Class of 2012.
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It doesn't happen often, but on occasion — and only during football season — Dazmond gets the phone calls.
"He started calling me," Dazmond said. "He started seeing me in the newspapers and started calling me."
The "he" is Dazmond's father, Derald. The two share a last name, but the elder Patterson has never really been a part of his son's life.
Derald is serving a term in federal prison on drug charges and violation of probation, Shaw said. He was first imprisoned when Shaw was three months pregnant with Dazmond, came back when his son was 11 then returned to prison just a year later — this time until 2026.
It wouldn't be hard to find his son in the newspaper or online or to see that Dazmond might play at the next level.
But the calls stopped coming after football season, when Dazmond led Plant City to a playoff berth. And Dazmond was fine with that.
"Not to put him down or anything," he said, "he can go about his, and we'll go about ours."
Since Dazmond started high school, Shaw has left the decision-making regarding the father-son relationship up to him. After years of being called too strict — even mean — Shaw can trust her son to make his own decisions.
"I've always supported him," Shaw said. "I'm the type of parent who says, 'You give me what I want, and I'll give you what you want.' "
Shaw has certainly asked a lot of Dazmond, and despite the occasional moment of resistance, her son has done what has been asked — and sometimes demanded — of him.
He has observed how Shaw persevered as a single mother, raising him, 13-year-old Markese Hargrove and 12-year-old Lacey Hargrove with help from what Shaw describes as a "phenomenal support system" of family and friends.
He watched her love for kids lead her to follow her mother's example, becoming a therapeutic foster parent. And he is awed by her ability to balance parenting with her duties as a special education teacher at Marshall Middle School and her work toward a master's degree in educational leadership, which she will receive in June.
"We're not ashamed to talk about it. We actually use it as a testimony. We tell other people. We encourage other people," Shaw said. "We tell the real story. There's no perfect world."
After consistently posting excellent grades throughout his early years, Dazmond received three C's in fifth grade: reading, writing and social studies. So Shaw canceled any potential plans for a summer vacation then bought the Harry Potter books and had her son write reports on each one.
Even worse, from Dazmond's perspective, she pulled him off his football team. After the coaches pleaded with her, Shaw let her son play the last half of the season.
"It was his worst season ever. I felt like God was showing him to order his steps," Shaw said. "I think that was kind of the turning point because after that year, sixth grade, he made straight A's. That's when I think he started realizing that Mama knows best."
Dazmond, who now holds a 4.5 grade point average, has never been a disciplinary problem. He has never been suspended, and he and Shaw can remember only one referral: in middle school, by his mother's request, for kissing. He and the girl had to clean tables for two days.
"He's accepted (discipline) as a way of life," Plant City coach Wayne Ward. "Especially living with his mom, there are expectations, and if you don't meet those expectations, there's a consequence to it."
The accomplishments certainly haven't come without hard work.
Dazmond has added more Advance Placement classes to his course load, which becomes increasingly difficult during football season, and he said he only sleeps from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m., when he wakes up for school.
"Just don't go to sleep until you get it done," Dazmond said. "You've got to get it done."
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For all the things Dazmond has overcome in his personal life, one thing beyond his control could dash his dream of playing at the next level: his size.
He lacks the traditional height recruiters look in running backs. One look at his highlight reel or one personal conversation might sway coaches, Ward said, but it always seems to come back to his stature.
That is exactly how most recruiting visits go, Ward said. He rushes to share Dazmond's gaudy stats from the 2010 season (1,751 total yards, 1,232 rushing, 18 touchdowns). Then, those three dreaded words pop up: What's his size?
"It's up and down," Ward said. "A roller coaster."
Dazmond's slight frame is, perhaps, the only thing between him and a wave of scholarship offers. At the moment, he has none but has been invited to USF's junior day. He has received letters from five schools — Auburn, Duke, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Tech and USF — but Dazmond said those letters go out to "everyone."
"He has pretty good vision. You get the ball to him, you open up a small hole, he's going to do a good job finding that hole and attacking it," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Chris Nee said. "He can get BCS offers — maybe not the top BCS schools — but he can get BCS offers."
His raw talent and high character have never been in question. His on-field results are almost as impressive as his off-field perseverance.
"They're looking at just one aspect and turning their heads," Dazmond said. "I feel like they don't realize how much they can get out of getting me to come to their schools."
But, as he learned from Ward and Shaw, the value of his life will not be determined by his future on the gridiron.
"I feel like because of her I can always fall back on school," Patterson said. "I love the game, and I'd play it every day if I could. But it's not like I'll die if I don't.
"I thank God every day for having my mom. It's incredible what she did by herself. She does it all by herself. I look up to her. She's my hero."