CHAPEL HILL — J.J. Patterson wanted to feel like he was back home.
Instead of literally moving back to Roanoke Rapids, the University of North Carolina redshirt freshman did the next best thing — he moved to the unit with two of his former high school teammates.
It was announced earlier this week that Patterson, who redshirted the 2012 season at offensive guard, made the switch to defensive tackle for the Tar Heels. Patterson told
The Daily Herald he went to the coaches and requested the change.
“I asked them,” Patterson said during a phone interview. “It was just something I always wanted to do. Something I felt like I was better at.”
Patterson played on the offensive and defensive line during his varsity career at Roanoke Rapids High School. He was initially recruited to play defense, but settled in on offense once he arrived on campus at Chapel Hill. Patterson worked his way up the depth chart in the spring and was listed as the backup offensive guard. But in the back of his mind he knew he wanted to make the switch to defense.
“I tried offense,” Patterson said. “I dealt with it, but it was not meant to be.”
Interestingly enough, the coaches at North Carolina had already discussed the possibility of Patterson moving to defense to add some depth. That was before he mentioned it to his position coach. Once Patterson brought it up to offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic, it was ran up the ladder to head coach Larry Fedora and the move was made official.
“Once they found out I wanted to do it as well,” Patterson said, “that was the signature on it.”
Patterson said he felt “more comfortable” and “at home” on defense. That would make sense considering he is joining former teammates Kareem Martin and Nazir Jones on the Heels defensive line. If Jones, a freshman, does not redshirt this season there is a possibility there could be three former Yellow Jackets on the field at the same time for UNC.
Patterson started practicing with the defense this week.
“The defense is harder as far as the physical part,” Patterson said. “On offense, there is a lot of technical work and stuff. Defense just kind of comes natural to me.”
Patterson, who is listed at 6-4, 310 pounds, sees the switch as a way to get on the field sooner. This week he practiced with the third team unit, until he gets a better grasp of the playbook. Patterson said on defense he is able to play faster and not think as much on defense, and his coaches have said he looks good going through the drills.
Asked if he might make the switch back to offense, he quickly answered, “no, I am staying on defense.”
And at the end of the night he is in the meeting room with two former high school teammates.
“It feels natural,” Patterson said. “Like I said, feels like we are back at home.”