PATTERSON — When college recruiters visit Patterson High and scan the campus for the first time, they’re usually surprised by what they see.
“They come to this small town and see it sitting between the (sugar) cane fields off Highway 90 and are amazed at what we have here,” coach Chad Blanchard said.
Blanchard, who has been at Patterson for 17 of the past 18 years (the past two as head coach), said there’s nothing particularly imposing about the school’s athletic facilities.
“We don’t by any means have poor facilities, but there’s nothing fancy,” he said. “It’s not the kind of layout that’s just going to blow your mind.”
What most intrigues recruiters is that so many prospects are found in a small town like Patterson at a school with about 500 students.
Patterson began extending its reputation as a high-caliber athletic haven decades ago when Dalton Hilliard starred in the early 1980s before moving on to success at LSU and with the Saints.
Dalton’s nephew, Ike Hilliard, now a wide receivers coach for the Washington Redskins, took his turn in the early 1990s and went on to become an All-America receiver at Florida before playing 12 NFL seasons.
Another of Dalton’s nephews, Kenny Hilliard, is in his first year with the Houston Texans. He was one of the nation’s top prep running backs before landing at LSU.
Former Southern defensive end Gillis Wilson, who was recruited by Southeastern Conference schools Florida and LSU, was drafted in the fifth round by the Carolina Panthers in 2000. (His sister married Dalton.)
Those are just a few of the former Patterson players who have been pursued by high-profile colleges.
Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class included Patterson receiver Daylon Charlot; and linebacker Lorenzo Phillips is a junior at Florida State after beginning his college career at LSU in 2012. This year, the prized Patterson recruit could be Mykel Jones, a 6-foot, 185-pounder who Blanchard said runs a 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash.
A knee that Jones injured during the 2014-15 basketball season required surgery, so Jones probably won’t be available until about the third week of the season, Blanchard said.
Despite its location, experienced college coaches, especially those from the SEC, have no trouble finding their way to Patterson, located near Morgan City in St. Mary Parish.
“It’s to a point now where the veteran coaches who have been around know the kind of athletes that we have here, and they know what to expect,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard said Patterson’s reputation as a hotbed of college prospects was solidified further when former coach Tommy Minton, now coach at Central Catholic of Morgan City, arrived at the school.
“Tommy took over in 1997, and I came with him,” Blanchard said. “What Tommy did was build a good program and sustained that level. I’m coaching kids who are the sons of fathers that I once coached when I was an assistant.”
Blanchard said the sustainability of Patterson’s ability to produce high-caliber athletes is intertwined with a compact community fiber.
“Patterson is such a great community. A lot of people have decided to stay here because of that atmosphere and raise families,” he said. “A lot of the kids we have had families who have remained here since at least the 1970s and have no desire to be anywhere else because they like the town. The kids have grown up watching this program, and we have been fortunate in that we have been able to keep a lot of good talent here.”
This season is no different, since Patterson’s participation numbers for football are slightly more than 50.
Last year, Patterson was involved in yet another playoff run after the Lumberjacks started Blanchard’s inaugural season 0-3.
After a loss to Catholic-New Iberia, Patterson won seven straight to finish the regular season 7-3. The Lumberjacks won two playoff games before losing to North Webster in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
Part of Patterson’s success has been an abundance of quality skill players. Last year, Patterson scored no fewer than 40 points in all but one of the last seven regular-season games.
“This year we again have a lot of experience at skill positions,” Blanchard said. “We have a returning all-state running back (Tristan Ausama) who gained 1,300 yards and some linebackers and other running backs.”
And at the end of the season, Blanchard said he expects to see the usual influx of coaches, some of whom might be in awe of the caliber of players on display.
“Oh yeah, a lot of them are going to be recruited,” Blanchard said. “We have a lot of good players for them to see.”