Big-time defensive end picks his dream school


by - Senior Writer -
Patterson is the 13th commit in Clemson's 2021 class.
Patterson is the 13th commit in Clemson's 2021 class.

DeRon Middleton looked into Zaire Patterson’s eyes the first time Patterson visited the Clemson campus, and he knew. He knew Clemson was a dream come true for his young defensive end.

Patterson, a four-star defensive end out of Winston-Salem (N.C.) Prep announced his commitment to Clemson Tuesday afternoon, the 13th pledge for the Tigers in the 2021 recruiting class (and the second defensive end). Clemson, South Carolina, and North Carolina were the finalists.

Middleton, the head coach at Winston-Salem Prep, said the Tigers are getting the entire package with Patterson.

“As a person, Clemson is getting a kind, loving young man who just wants to be part of the family,” Middleton said. “He wants to feel a part of the family and a part of the community. He's been with me for the last three or four years. On my staff and our football team, we have 'OTF - Own the Family. He's a smart kid and education is really important to him. He wants to be an engineer. He's probably going to graduate from high school in the top three in this class with a 3.7 or 3.8 GPA. That's the kind of person that he is.

“The kind of player they're going to get, they're getting a dog. In my opinion, he's the No. 1 pass rusher in the nation. He can really get after a quarterback. To be his size and his height, he has bend like no other and a get off like no other. He's an elite talent. Clemson and Coach Venables will put him in the right position to make the plays because they have the players around him to make him better.”

Middleton said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables hasn’t tipped his hand as to how he will use Patterson, but Middleton has an idea.

“Not extensively but I've seen what they've done with Isaiah Simmons and other players in the past. Zaire has that type of skillset,” Middleton said. “With Zaire being such a smart kid, he knows what his ability is, so last season we played him a lot at outside linebacker and he ended up catching four interceptions and returning two for touchdowns. I think one of them was a 75-yard touchdown, so he's got that in his arsenal now. He can rush the passer. He's got some run-stopping abilities as well, so he's very versatile. Clemson will be a great spot for him.”

Middleton said he knew Patterson would wind up a Tiger.

“When I first met Zaire, his dream school was Clemson. He wanted to go to Clemson,” Middleton said. "He thought Clemson would be a great spot for him. He ended up doing his research on the school, studying the school, understanding what they run on defense, seeing if they had his degree in engineering. On his first visit to Clemson, his eyes said a lot. He was very impressed with Clemson.”

Patterson is not only a physical presence on the field, he understands the mental part of the game.

“He's a very smart football player. He knows when to go and when not to go,” Middleton said. “He knows how to turn it on and turn it off. Sometimes it can be a detriment to him. He's an elite talent and sometimes kids just can't block him. When it's time to go - we have a thing called, 'money' and our defensive coordinator will call out, 'money' and he knows it's time to go get the quarterback. His first year, he had 17 sacks and last year he had 11. It only went down because he wanted to focus more on catching interceptions. We have another defensive end who took about four of his sacks, so they were in a competition.”

Clemson’s 13-man class is ranked third in the 247Sports Composite rankings behind Ohio State (18 commits) and Tennessee (24).

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