BOULDER — TJ Patterson stood on the sidelines last fall itching to get on the football field as the Boulder Panthers struggled through a brutal North Metro League slate.
As a transplant from cross-town rival Fairview, though, Colorado High School Activities Association transfer rules mandated that the 6-foot-3, 185-pound quarterback sit out his junior season at BHS.
Finally eligible to play, the dual-threat quarterback is one of many reasons the Panthers are as excited as they’ve been about the offensive side of the football during fifth-year head coach Jeff Santee’s tenure as BHS converts from its grind-it-out approach to a wide-open spread attack.
“Last year was a bummer, but I learned a lot last year,” Patterson said this week as fall practice opened. “So now I just get to use the season to show what I learned and that I got better. It’s going to be a big year, and I’m excited for it.”
Granted, the excitement surrounding Patterson is tempered by the fact that he’s never thrown a varsity pass. There’s still plenty to prove. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t already turning some heads with his talents.
After earning quarterback MVP honors at the National Underclassmen Combine at Prairie View High School this summer, he was selected to attend NUC’s Ultimate 100 camp in Los Angeles in late June. Again named a top quarterback, he earned an invite as one of 20 QBs at the NUC Top Prospect Elite camp in Norman, Okla., where he helped lead his team to the 7 on 7 title.
“So far he’s responded well and done everything we’ve asked him to do and more,” Santee said. “He has a lot of upside. I think a lot of it is just going to be how he responds in game situations.”
Of course, Patterson — a left-hander who’s receiving recruiting interest from Wyoming, among others — won’t be alone.
Back are starting wide receivers Loic Guegan and Luis Escobar, as is 6-2, 205-pound River Addison at H-back. Phil Swisher, who started at quarterback last year as a junior and underwent offseason shoulder surgery, figures to be an asset at the other H-back spot with his 6-3, 220-pound frame.
And all of that’s not to mention tailback Demetrius Kennedy, the Panthers’ most potent playmaker a year ago with 985 yards and eight touchdowns rushing.
While BHS has employed aspects of the spread in recent seasons, this year is the first where Santee feels like he can open things up the way he’s wanted to. The past two years, in particular, the Panthers’ success was tied primarily to the ground game, with roughly 70 percent of their offensive production coming via the run.
“If we can throw the ball a little bit with a guy like Demetrius back there, all of a sudden we’re putting pressure on defenses that we haven’t been able to do in a while,” Santee said.
The shift to the spread has meant a learning curve for everyone involved.
Receivers like Guegan have had to learn to improvise when Patterson keeps a play alive with his feet. Offensive linemen, meanwhile, have had plenty to absorb as well with new schemes.
“We’ve got some pretty smart guys up front,” senior center Darren Burton said. “We’re just trying to stay aggressive with the pass blocking.”
Kennedy, who accounted for more than a third of BHS’ offense last season, is excited about the prospects of getting the ball in space more frequently and seeing what he can do.
And like Patterson, himself, Kennedy is excited to see what dimension the new quarterback brings to the equation.
“He was a struggle for us when we played against him (as freshmen),” Kennedy said. “So I’m happy to see what he can do for us as a senior. He’s stepped up. He’s been a leader this year.”
Defensively, the Panthers will be anchored by a linebacking corps that includes returning starters Addison, Amin Halimovic and Logan Bock as position battles work themselves out up front and in the secondary.
The group will face a tough task in a league with teams like 2011 5A state semifinalist Pomona and defending conference champ Ralston Valley.
But the Panthers, 4-6 a year ago and looking for their first winning season since 2003, feel they’ve got the pieces to compete.
“I think everyone’s anxious to have one of those years where … you break through a little bit,” Santee said. “That’s really what we’re hoping for as a staff.”
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