The Booker T. Washington football team’s championship hopes were collapsing fast.
And then Nigel Patten found himself at ground zero of the Tornadoes’ disastrous night.
Patten muffed a kickoff near his own goal line and as he struggled to get the ball back watched a Jacksonville Bolles player take the ball away and with it Booker T.’s state championship hopes a year ago in the Citrus Bowl.
The miscue was a turning point, but not the only error that contributed to a 33-25 state championship defeat in the 2011 Class 4A state final.
That didn’t make it any less painful for Patten.
“It was real tough at school that Monday after,” Patten said. “A lot of people had things to say to me. They felt like I cost them the game and the championship. My coaches were there for me, and told me not to blame myself, but it still took a long time to get over it.”
The Tornadoes get a second chance Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl when they face Jacksonville Bolles again in the Class 4A final at 7 p.m.
And no Booker T. player is more anxious to get on the field than Patten.
Patten, a 5-9, 175-pound junior cornerback, has been one of the key defensive players that has helped Booker T. (12-1) earn a trip back to Orlando as a shut down player against most top receivers in the state.
Patten, who already has been offered a scholarship by Florida State, has 22 solo tackles this season and helped the Tornadoes allow only 13 points in the playoffs. Patten also has drawn interest from Miami, Mississippi, Connecticut, Purdue and West Virginia.
“I’m ready to do what I got to do and show everyone I’m not the same player I was then,” Patten said. “I’ve matured a lot and I’m ready to show it.”
The road to potential redemption wasn’t easy for Patten, who grew up playing in Overtown with several of his current teammates.
“From my standpoint, his mistake didn’t define that game,” Booker T. Washington coach Tim “Ice” Harris said. “But we understand what a kid in that situation can go through and what other kids and people will tell him. As coaches, we’re trying to make sure kids understand that you have to go through trials and tribulations in sports, but you have to be prepared to face it and work hard.
“He was still crying and apologizing the day after the game, but I told him you have to move on and the second you can move on, you’ll see what a stronger person you are.”
Harris said the whole experience humbled Patten, whom he said had a tendency to brag after making big plays. That got him in trouble earlier this season when he was ejected following an on-field scuffle with a player from Orlando Jones.
The team suspended Patten for one game, but avoided additional punishment from the Florida High School Athletic Association when the school won an appeal after submitting video evidence of the altercation.
“The video we sent to the state showed that Patten didn’t do anything that deserved a long suspension,” Harris said. “Nigel’s a great kid and a hard worker, but when he realized how he can get in trouble and lose a chance to play football it when something like that happens, it really taught him a lesson. It’s really helped him develop in terms of his work ethic and it’s shown in his play this year.”