By Thoden K. Janes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

ason Patterson is ready to become the Arizona football team's

starting fullback next fall. He is ready to make people forget the name Billy Johnson. He is ready to help Arizona make another run at a New Year's Day bowl game. He is injured.

Last Saturday, just a few plays into a scrimmage between the Wildcats' No. 1 offensive and defensive teams, Patterson was blocking a defender when the offensive line came from behind and fell on his ankle.

The 21-year-old junior folded backward in pain and it looked like maybe, just maybe, his hopes of stepping into the Johnson's shoes would have to wait. But Patterson didn't spend any time crying.

"It's part of football, you're going to get banged up a little bit," Patterson said. "When you play spring ball, the contact is so hard, so intense, people are bound to get a little banged up."

A reasonable assesment. Eight UA players have gone down with injuries during spring practice, including defensive end Tedy Bruschi and Brian Hand, who broke his leg last Saturday.

As for Patterson, it wasn't the first time he had taken a pretty good lick. In an Oct. 30 loss to UCLA, he suffered a slight cartilage tear in his knee that forced him to undergo minor surgery to smooth it back out. Patterson said these injuries have reminded him that one play can end your whole career.

Spring football concludes today, so Patterson only missed a scrimmage and a couple of practices because of the sprain. As it turned out, the injury was only minor but still, it is something that has been bothering him quite a bit.

"He just has that kind of temperment," said Marc Lunsford, running backs coach. "He is discouraged about having an injury because he knows he is in a battle for a position (with freshman Charles Myles). But here, you are going to get a position by competing, not by default. Jason is a competitor."

Patterson has been this way ever since he was a kid playing Pop Warner football in his hometown of La Puente, Calif.

By the time he was a senior at La Puente's Bishop Amat High School, he was player of the year in his division and defensive player of the year for the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section.

He went to Mount San Antonio College for a year before moving on to Santa Monica City College in 1992, where he earned second-team all-Western State Conference honors as a fullback.

After that season, Patterson transferred to Arizona with the hopes of showcasing his talent.

He hasn't received many chances.

"I was frustrated last season because I had to take turns with Billy and Lamont (Lovett)," Patterson said. "I guess it was more of a learning year when I had to come in and learn the offense and just get better on a few things."

Despite limited playing time, Patterson experienced a couple of shining moments last season, including a 29-yard run from near the goal line against Oregon State. That play, which he calls his favorite, helped to boost his yards-per-carry average to a team-leading 7.3 yards (44 yards on six carries). Take away that run against the Beavers, and Patterson's average is an even three.

However, he did a lot of the little things that were important, such as consistently opening up holes in the formation for other running backs.

He also served on the kickoff return team and the point after touchdown team.

One thing that didn't frustrate Patterson last season was making the adjustment from a junior college team to a major Division I power like Arizona.

"Physically they (Division I players) are a little bit better, but not much," said Patterson, who is 5-foot-11 and weighs about 230 pounds. "There are some big guys I was hitting in (junior college, too,) so it hasn't changed much.

"It's mostly the speed though, that is the main difference everything happens quicker (here)."

The adjustment now complete, Patterson looks forward to plenty of starts in the fall, and hopes to avoid any more setbacks.

"There's a freshman (Myles) right behind me that is pushing me right now," Patterson said. "He is talented, but I feel I have experience and confidence, because I've already done it." Read Next Article