The offers started to roll in for Zaire Patterson in September of 2018 beginning with in-state North Carolina.
Virginia, N.C. State, South Carolina and Duke soon followed.
Virginia Tech was the 10th scholarship to come in for the Winston Salem (NC) Prep defensive end and Florida was No. 11. With each opportunity, Patterson’s coach DeRon Middleton says the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Patterson came to him with a plan to work harder.
That’s because the program he was really trying to impress was Clemson.
“That’s all he was working towards,” Middleton stated.
All the extra workouts, staying late after practice, doing defensive back drills to become more fluid, it all paid off in January when Dabo Swinney and the Tigers offered. And Tuesday evening Patterson announced his pledge to the ACC powerhouse.
“It’s a dream of his when he started playing football,” Middleton said. “First thing he said to me is, ‘Coach Middleton, I want to go to Clemson.’ And we started working and as he started getting offers he kept working.”
Patterson is tabbed by the Top247 as the nation’s No. 8 weak-side defensive end and No. 99 prospect overall. By the time Clemson jumped into the mix, the likes of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Notre Dame had as well. He is commit No. 13 for the Tigers in the 2021 recruiting cycle, adding to a class ranked No. 3 nationally by the 247Sports Composite.
“They’re getting in my opinion the No. 1 pass rusher in the nation,” Middleton said. “An elite pass rusher. He can get to the quarterback. He’s a team guy. Once he builds a relationship with you, y’all are family. He wants to be part of the family and at West Salem Prep that’s what we promote.
“I met Zaire when he was a freshman in high school, 14 years old, he’s a little younger for his grade, and he didn’t play football his freshman year he was playing basketball. He was walking down the hallway and said Coach Middleton ‘I’m going to play football for real next year.’ I said you come out and play and I guarantee you a scholarship in football, I’m not sure if it will be D-1 or D-2, but someone will look at you.”
But as we talked about before at the top of this article, Clemson was the scholarship Patterson wanted.
“He worked so hard and his body changed,” Middleton said. He’s probably closer to 6-7 than 6-6 now. His body changed, his shoulders are getting bigger, his back is getting bigger, his legs, he’s probably 225 right now.
“He’s advertised. Whenever he walks in the room you’re going to be like that’s him.”
Middleton had Patterson marked down for 17 sacks as a sophomore and 11 more as a junior, with him taking on outside linebacker responsibilities this past season including dropping in coverage on some downs utilizing those defensive back drills he worked on in the offseason. Patterson had four interceptions including two pick sixes.
“He’s a very hard worker and very smart kid, 3.7 GPA, probably graduate in the top three of his class,” Middleton said. “He wants to be an engineer, loves his family and wants to be a lighting rod for his family.”
Patterson is coming in a year after Clemson signed the top defensive line haul in the nation in 2020, giving defensive coordinator Brent Venables another high upside player at the point of attack. This Tigers class in general is loaded on defense with Patterson joining two of the best linebackers in the country in Jeremiah Trotter and Barrett Carter along with one of the more-heavily recruited cornerbacks in the land in Jordan Hancock and of course fellow four-star defensive end Cade Denhoff. Lemanski Hall and Mike Reed led the charge in the recruitment of Patterson.
“Brent has a way of getting the best out of all his kids and using their talents to fit the whole team,” Middleton said. “I know they had Isaiah Simmons get drafted high this year but the guys and the way they played well around Simmons allowed Brent to get the best out of Simmons. Talking to Reed and Hall and Dabo, they seem to have a unique plan for Zaire to excel on and off the field.”
We at 247Sports think he will excel at a high level too. Patterson has a skill set to push the likes of five-stars Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and company who signed on the dotted line for Clemson in 2020.
“I think the first thing that popped out with Zaire Patterson is he has a ton of upside as a pass rusher,” 247Sports National Analyst Charles Power said. “He brings a premium skill set to the table with his size, length and athleticism to dip and bend around the edge. I think for an edge rusher with his dimensions he also has a lot of flexibility and natural athleticism and that shows up at the high school level. He doesn’t play the best competition that’s one of the question marks moving forward but it’s very encouraging that he’s already this productive despite his relative inexperience. He was a stock up prospect for us in the last rankings update and I think if he continues to progress he has one of the highest upsides among edge rushers we’ve seen so far.”
247Sports National Analyst Greg Biggins likens Patterson to Montez Sweat who was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State.
“Long, athletic frame with a great burst off the edge,” Biggins wrote in his evaluation. “Can play OLB in a 3-4 or defensive end in a 4-3. Plays in a two-point stance and has one of the best dip and bend moves in this class. Extremely tough to block because of his ability to get lower and change direction back toward the quarterback. A natural pass rusher with high end physical upside. Long arms, great first step and the closing speed to run down plays from behind. Has room to fill out and add some good weight and strength to his 6-6 frame. Can get better at the point of attack but that will come with time in the weight room and will take his game to another level once he fills out. Rare to see a player with his length be as comfortable as he is playing in space or dropping in coverage. Projects as an impact upper tier Power 5 starter and future mid to high round NFL draft pick.”