Viewpoint New Haven QB Patterson is a leader, and plans to keep it that way

November 21, 2018

WEST HAVEN — Ajee Patterson sees things now that he didn’t see the first time he stepped into a college football game, against Slippery Rock four years ago.

The New Haven quarterback and Northeast-10 Conference MVP sees other things, too. Things he didn’t used to see that will serve him well in the slippery slope of life.

He wants to be a professional quarterback.

He also wants to be a cop in his hometown of Neptune, N.J.

Ajee Patterson, in his sixth year as a college student and with a degree in criminal justice, has the learned the patience for both.

“My first college game, man, I was just trying to find any open person, didn’t know how to use my eyes,” Patterson said. “I missed a wide-open slant that could have tied the game. Just plain missed it. Threw into the ground. I still watch film from that day.”

As his brilliant career at New Haven winds toward its conclusion, there is something fitting in Patterson leading the Chargers into the second round of the national Division II playoffs at home Saturday against, yes, Slippery Rock.

Patterson sees things now. He sees them because he studies Aaron Rodgers. Coach Chris Pincince loves the Patriots, always talking about Tom Brady, so Patterson studies the best. He is in a constant search to steal a little piece here and a little piece there.

“I watch film all the time,” Patterson said. “I’m a big Jared Goff fan, I used to watch his highlight film (from Cal) and was amazed. You watch those guys read defenses, use their hands to sell the snap count, see where the blitz is coming from — those things really matter. I think I’m improved in making reads, staying in the pocket, waiting for my receivers to get open, giving them time to run when they are in press coverage, my footwork.”

Patterson did not play quarterback at Neptune High until his senior year. His friend Jaheem Woods, who went on to Stony Brook, played ahead of him. Patterson was an outside linebacker and long snapper.

“I wasn’t a big recruit coming out of high school,” said Patterson, who was looked at by Monmouth, Central Connecticut and, briefly, Temple. “So I had a chip on my shoulder.”

He didn’t play his freshman year at New Haven. When Pincince arrived, he had a fifth-year quarterback and a long-range plan for Patterson. Patterson didn’t play his second year, either. The Jersey boy arrived on campus in 2013. He’s still here.

“When I first got here, I also was having a little trouble with my grades,” Patterson said. “I wasn’t failing, but I was struggling. I got that corrected. Coach P wanted to make sure I was accountable.”

Going into 2015, Shazzon Mumphrey was named starter. Patterson got into the second half of that opening loss to Slippery Rock and completed 6 of 16 passes.

“I looked like a rookie,” Patterson said. “I wasn’t doing anything I was coached to do. I was a young buck trying to make a name for myself.”

He has come a long, long way. With 9,857 yards, Patterson is UNH’s all-time leading passer. He has thrown for 2,607 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. He accounted for all five touchdowns either with his arm or his feet as New Haven beat West Chester 35-28 in the Division II opening round.

“He is the best player in our league and the best player on the field 12 straight games,” Pincince said. “The thing I’m most proud of is his leadership. It has been a long trip for Ajee. I’m glad the plan worked out.”

The attrition rate for college football is high. There is physical and mental stress. Playing time disappears. Finances can get tight. Life happens. Family issues happen. Graduation happens, and guys eschew a final year of eligibility. All of it.

“I’m so thankful to Coach P that he had something planned for me for the long run,” Patterson said. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

“Ajee is in much better shape now, much better prepared,” Pincince said. “He’s such a tough kid. Because he plays so hard, he’s always playing with injuries. This year he’s playing with a torn ligament in his right shoulder and a broken pinky and probably hurt his foot again.”

Patterson has been invited to play in the National Bowl Game, an all-star event that gives NFL scouts a chance to evaluate DII, DIII and NAIA players. A couple of teams have called about Patterson. If he isn’t drafted, somebody figures to give him a chance in camp. There’s the CFL, arena football, etc.

“I know I can play with (higher-level) players, but I’m focused on this week,” Patterson said. “Whatever happens happens.”

What could happen is putting down the blue of the New Haven uniform and putting on the blue of the Neptune Police Department.

“It started for me when I was young,” Patterson said. “My father used to watch the show ‘Cops,’ and I’d sit there and go, ‘Dad, what are they doing?’ He’d say, ‘They’re doing a good job, putting bad people in jail.’

“I’ve always wanted to help my community. Do anything to keep the community safe, keep kids out of harm’s way and show them you can do something you always wanted to do if you put your mind to it. Don’t let anybody tell you different. Doesn’t matter skin color or nationality or anything.”

America loves good quarterbacks.

America needs good cops, especially African-American cops.

There is no more important discussion in our nation than the one about law enforcement and young black men. Patterson knows this. He talks about the respect he has for cops who get out of their cars, taking the care to engage the community. This is what drives him. It is a noble drive.

“The area I grew up wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t really bad,” Patterson said. “I had a great group of friends, we weren’t bad kids, we all played football.

“I believe you can relate some of the things from football to being an officer. You have to have patience with people. I had to learn to have patience with my receivers on the field and communicating with them in film room when they don’t understand something.

“An officer has to be a leader in the community. I have to be a leader on this team. You’re out on the street, in the neighborhoods, you want to be a leader for the next generation. If it works out in football, I’ll go play football. If it doesn’t, I will return home and help my community.”

This week, though, he’s itching for Slippery Rock.

“I’m 0-2 against those guys,” Patterson said. “I really want to go out there and light them up, but I’m going to do what I’m coached to do. I tell the guys all the time, football is about doing your job. I watched the Patriots documentary. Their whole thing is, ‘Do your job.’ Do it for the man next to you and believe in him.”

Yes, Ajee Patterson even studies the documentaries.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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