ASHBURN — In the flood of calls, texts, kudos and well-wishes from friends and fans that Jaret Patterson got after Tuesday’s good news, there was one that stood out.
Hall of Famer Barry Sanders took to Twitter to congratulate the 21-year-old running back and undrafted free agent on making the Washington Football Team’s 53-man roster.
The social-media connection between the two men dates back to November, when Sanders tweeted about the running back’s record-tying, eight-touchdown performance for the University of Buffalo.
But Patterson’s interest in the NFL legend goes back much further.
“That’s always been my guy,” Patterson said Wednesday. “It just means a lot — one of the G.O.A.Ts in my position, been recognizing since college even to now. It just gives you more confidence that you belong and this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Patterson is one of at least two Washington players for whom making the 53-man roster is particularly sweet.
Tight end Sammis Reyes, like Patterson, went undrafted and overcame long odds to wind up in the NFL. Patterson, who stands just 5-foot-7, had to address concerns about his height.
Reyes, 25, a former college basketball player, had never played football before starting to train for the NFL just last year.
Coincidentally, their stalls are next to each other in Washington’s locker room. And they’ve bonded over similar paths — and more.
“I see my life as a whole bunch of failures that led up to this,” Reyes said. “Sometimes, you see these NFL stars — they’re the one percent of all athletes. It seems like an easy story, but you know, kids get caught up in having those crazy stories. They’re only such a small percentage of guys that can make that happen. Everybody else has to work their tails off to be here. Everybody else has to sacrifice everything they have to be here.”
Reyes and Patterson have worked, sacrificed and then some. When Reyes started training to become a professional football player, the Chilean native drove the food-service delivery DoorDash to make ends meet. On those trips, Reyes used to listen to motivational podcasts, as well as pull up instructional YouTube videos to learn what a 4-3 defense was.
Patterson deferred his college enrollment a semester when Buffalo only offered him a “gray shirt” scholarship, meaning he’d have to wait until the winter to join the university rather than in the fall. And he had to ignore plenty of skeptics who said he was too short, too small to play on the biggest levels.
But there were moments this summer that reinforced their beliefs that each belonged. For Reyes, it was a run block that paved the way for an eight-yard Patterson gain. After spending weeks and months trying to hone in on his blocking techniques, Reyes drove a defender to the side with his strength and created a hole for the running back.
Patterson had two stellar preseason games in which he led Washington in yards from scrimmage. Finally, the Maryland native proved in the NFL what he had in high school and college.
“I know how to get through the mud,” Patterson said.
The two players each cherished the moment they found out their roster spot was official. Running backs coach Randy Jordan told Patterson he made the roster just prior to a team meeting, and Patterson said he felt his shoulders “relax.”
Reyes relished speaking to his parents and grandparents over the phone — all of whom reside in Chile. Reyes described it as a “moment of happiness,” coming to terms with the fact he’ll be the first-ever Chilean-born player to appear in an NFL game, barring something unforeseen like an injury.
In those 15 minutes of talking to his family, Reyes circled back to one topic, despite his accomplishment: He can’t stop now.
“There are so many critics,” Reyes said. “There are so many people that probably don’t think I need to be here. There are other people that love me and they want me to be here. But at the end of the day, the main thing that matters is what you think of yourself.
“And what I think of myself is that I belong here, that I deserve to be here and that they want me here.”