Han Vance on Georgia Football: Natrez Patrick will be all-SEC this season.
Continuing my look at the Georgia Bulldogs most likely to impact the 2018 college football season. After previous pieces on Terry Godwin and Deandre Baker, third up is yet another senior, on what is widely-considered a young football team. Kirby Smart rode upperclassmen leadership to an SEC championship in his second year as a head coach, and I am seeing that mini-trend continuing.
The 6-3, 242-pound linebacker has been in the news for the wrong reasons and missed the College Football Playoff after yet another marijuana-related incident. But, he has finally found his focus in time for a redemptive senior season, where defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be relying on him to lead a revamped front seven from the middle linebacker spot.
Football has never been the issue for Patrick. Out of 5A Mays High School in Atlanta, Patrick propelled his squad to a berth in the state championship game, before being named All-USA second team by USA Today and coming to play for Mark Richt.
He was an early enrollee at UGA, in January of 2014. A strong student in the heralded Journalism School, majoring in advertising, Patrick was recently the student-athlete of the week.
As fifth-generation Georgia man Richard Hilley reminded me, Patrick was actually a good bit ahead of his best friend on the team, Roquan Smith, as early underclassmen at Georgia. I project Smith to the NFL Hall of Fame and consider him the school’s best defender ever, so this alone is not insignificant. Player development, especially a full-blossoming late, has been the hallmark of Kirby Smart’s long winning tenure as a football coach as much as recruiting.
In 2015, Patrick played in 11 games and had his best game in the bowl win over Penn State. A little sidebar here, that the utterance of that school brings to mind. These are not major crimes Patrick has committed, drug addiction itself is rightly considered an illness that can be treated and the drug in question is legal in many states and used as a pain treatment by many in the professional ranks. That Jeremy Pruitt defense carried the team – which struggled mightily on offense – to double-digit wins, as Richt was shown the door.
In 2016, Natrez was voted the most improved player in spring football and saw action in 10 games. A key cog, he missed the last three games with injury. Natrez and Roquan got in trouble together for weed smoke in the dorm but somehow got out of it by passing a school-administered drug test. Dubious. Roquan finally eclipsed Natrez as the leading tackler on the team that season by getting the additional starts, and I noticed a philosophical shift begin then which would come to full fruition by the middle of the next season. Georgia was funneling to the middle, forcing the action into Roquan where he reeked utter havoc. Natrez still finished as the second-leading tackler on the team.
In 2017, Patrick played in nine games and started seven. Dawgs played a junk set stack deep backer-behind scheme at Tech, where Smith was essentially a deep safety behind the formation to clean up mistakes and Patrick roamed the middle. He was in his standard slot aside the Butkus Award winner in Atlanta, as UGA whipped old Auburn and won the school’s 12th SEC title. Then he was gone. I recently watched the two top games of the 2017 college football season, as designated by ESPN. First, the Rose Bowl, next, the CFP final, in which UGA dominated the majority of both games. We were fortunate to fall down so early that we had time to come back in game one. We were clearly the better team and choked in game two. I noted senior Reggie Carter filling in above adequately for Patrick; I definitely noticed Roquan.
In 2018, you will notice Natrez Patrick.