Meet ‘luckiest' guy in world


Florida offensive lineman Matt Patchan fields questions from various media during UF Football Media Day at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Touchdown Terrace on the UF campus Thursday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 10:08 p.m.

The undersized kid who walked into summer camp in 2008 full of confidence and enthusiasm has changed in so many ways. He weighed 238 pounds then and was asked to play defensive tackle. He weighs 306 pounds today and is a starting offensive tackle.

And even though this 6-foot-7 mountain of muscle would have a hard time recognizing the freshman of 2008, it’s not the physical changes in Matt Patchan that are the most noticeable.

“It’s not that I’ve changed so much,” he said. “It’s that I’ve experienced (so much). You can never replicate that.”

Patchan is about to enter his fifth season as a Florida Gator. There could be a sixth. The NCAA has already given him an extra year, which tells you a lot about his journey. On Thursday, he was late for the Gators’ team meeting because he was taking his GRE (Graduate Record Examination) so he can go to graduate school in the spring. If he has a big year, he’ll probably head for the NFL.

But to do that, he’ll have to stay healthy. And that has been the problem.

Patchan came to Florida as one of the nation’s top recruits, but before his first season he suffered a shoulder injury and was shot in the back. Seven surgeries later, his is a career where something always seems to get in the way.

And yet, he says, “I’m the luckiest person you know.”

Maybe it was that gunshot that makes him feel that way. Patchan was talking with friends at Sadie Park in Bradenton on that May night in 2008 when someone opened fire on the crowd. The bullet struck him in the upper back and stopped just inches from his left lung.

“I think about it all the time,” he said. “What if I looked at the guy and the shot hit me in the head? It happened so fast. You realize you’re not big enough to stop a bullet. But I also understand that I’m lucky.”

The luckiest guy in the world, he says.

Because the injuries have been a downer, but he knows things can be worse. Yes, Jaye Howard accidentally took out his knee while both of them were going for a sack in 2009. Sure, he missed the 2008 national title game with a torn MCL after playing more than anyone thought he would as a true freshman. Of course, he has found unusual ways to suffer injuries like the scooter accident three years ago.

Luckiest guy I know?

“The hardest part was that I felt it was all my fault because I want to earn what I get,” he said. “I don’t want to be a meal ticket.”

He felt that way after missing much of 2009 and all of 2010. But walk away from the game? Perish the thought.

You’d understand if you met his dad.

Matt Patchan III played at Miami and spends hours on the phone with his son critiquing his play. He also is suffering from a terminal neurological disease that his son says is similar to ALS. He is currently confined to a wheelchair.

“I’ve never seen him run,” said the Florida redshirt junior. “The best I’ve ever seen him was with a cane. It’s tough to see him struggle. But he’s the most upbeat guy you’ll ever see.

“He’s a living, breathing inspiration every day.”

Maybe that’s why all the injuries are just blips on Matt Patchan’s mental radar. It hasn’t been an easy four years, but so many people he knows have it worse.

“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life,” he said, “but (dad’s) been overcoming obstacles for a long time.”

It’s things like his father’s struggles that make Patchan see the injuries as potholes on his journey to here. Healthy and in the best shape of his life, he’s ready to make his mark on Florida football.

“Matt’s put in the work,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp. “He’s at a good place.”

It’s a place where he doesn’t have to look far for inspiration, whether it’s his father cheering in the stands or the blue wristband on his right arm. It is in honor of Beau Scheneker. He was a next door neighbor of the Patchans in Tampa, a bright young boy of 13 who was the captain of his soccer team and a straight-A student.

According to police, Beau and his 16-year-old sister were shot and killed by their mother on Jan. 28 of last year.

“He worked his tail off,” Patchan said. “He was really close to my brother (Scotty, who is 15). If you knew this kid …”

He has to stop to collect himself.

“I remember one time we were going to the mall and his father had given him $40 to buy Christmas presents,” he said and he stops again.

“Sorry. We stopped to eat and he tried to pay for all of us. If you knew this kid ...”

Some things are better off not experienced. But life doesn’t come at you with any danger warnings. Life happens. Sometimes it gets in the way. It’s what you do with the collection of experiences that matters.

Matt Patchan has seen a lot. He has been through more than your average fifth-year college football player.

They all formed the man you see today.

The luckiest guy you know.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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