Solomon Patton didn't think he'd be this successful or popular. The 5-foot-9, 177-pound receiver always figured his role at Florida would be on cute plays. He believed he was destined to be more of an offensive specialist than a true go-to receiver.
When Patton walks into Tiger Stadium to face LSU on Saturday, he'll do so as both.
The former role player has become a legitimate No. 1 receiver, as he leads Florida with 348 yards and four touchdowns on 19 catches. He's averaging 69.6 yards per game and 18.3 yards per catch. Looking back at his first three years in Gainesville, Patton can't help but get excited about his recent success.
"It pumps me up a lot because I honestly didn't think that I'd be in this situation that I'm in right now as far as catching this many passes because I was more of a jet sweep-type guy," said Patton, who entered the year with eight career receptions for 79 yards and zero touchdowns.
The neat thing about Patton's evolution is that he's still that jet sweep-type guy, but he also has become so much more. He has carried the ball seven times for 40 yards, but he has become a deep threat, a screen threat and an over-the-middle threat.
"In the underneath routes, one missed tackle, one missed angle, he has a chance to score on you immediately," Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
Patton was recruited to be a utility player, like former Gators star Percy Harvin. He'd mostly be used on sweeps and in the backfield, but his downfield presence would be limited.
Until this season, that's all Patton really was in the offense. Muschamp said it was tough to expand his role because of his size. It's harder to get smaller guys the ball over the middle and on the outside. Plays in the flats and runs were his thing, and that was fine.
"Obviously any person who has speed and can make plays wants the ball in his hands and I did feel like, 'Give me the ball and I'd help out as much as I can,'" Patton said.
Then new receivers coach Joker Phillips arrived. The first thing he did with Patton was sit him down and TEACH him how to play receiver. Used to just getting the ball and going, Patton learned how to dissect defenses on film, read coverages before the snap and correctly run routes -- like, real routes.
"He's definitely made a huge impact on my life," Patton said.
It has certainly been a change for the better, as Patton can line up all over the place and be effective for the Gators. We've seen it in deeper throws, like his beautiful over-the-shoulder catch he made against Miami in Week 2. And we definitely saw it in how he's turned short catches into big plays over the weeks.
Against Arkansas last week, he transformed two simple passes from the slot into touchdowns of 51 and 38 yards. In both, Patton saw Cover 2 from the defense and a defensive back bailing out on him, giving him too much space. As soon as Patton caught the first pass, he bolted toward the end zone, slipping a tackle attempt by cornerback Tevin Mitchel. On the second, he immediately ducked out of Mitchel's tackle after the catch, before darting down the sideline, shedding linebacker Martrell Spaight and safety Eric Bennett before finding the end zone again. He finished with six catches for 124 yards.
Patton might not be the biggest player on the field, but quarterback Tyler Murphy has had no trouble seeing him. Eleven of Murphy's 39 completions have been to Patton.
"I try to get him the ball as much as possible so he can make things happen," Murphy said. "I'm happy he's on our team and not anyone else's."
Things never came this easy, and after catching four passes his freshman season, his catches dropped to three in 2011 and one in 2012 before a broken arm during the Georgia game ended his year.
After biding his time, Patton finds himself in a pretty neat situation with the Gators.
"It's all about patience," he said. "Patience is the key, especially in my situation because it was pretty hard. Coming from high school you really want to play right off the bat and you come from being that dude."
Now, Patton is that dude again.