The student body of about 2,000 kids at Northwestern High School milled around and rolled through the courtyard Friday near the main office.
A man with no hands – who grabs the students who need grabbing with the will of his heart – looked across that courtyard and said, “It all started right there when he came to this school. Skinny kid, tall. He stood right there. He was looking for something.”
Cordarrelle Patterson was found that day seven years ago in the courtyard at the school, by that man without hands but a smile and a belief that every kid can succeed.
The man is William Cureton, nicknamed “Q-Rock” or “Coach Q.” Born without hands, his title is a teaching assistant at the school. He is also an assistant football coach. He is so much more than a title, though, far more than a coach.
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Q-Rock is a man who does not quit young kids. And now Rock Hill has another in a line of National Football League players in part because of Cureton and others.
“He was standing there, he never played before, and he needed something and he found it,” Cureton said. “He succeeds, we all succeed. I wouldn’t have been happier if that was me on that stage in New York.”
The 22-year-old star wide receiver for the University of Tennessee was drafted in the first-round by the Minnesota Vikings late Thursday.
But before he was a Volunteer, Patterson played at a tiny community college in Kansas for two years, after not receiving a single football scholarship offer from the big colleges, despite setting records at Northwestern.
Patterson didn’t have the grades and credentials to immediately qualify for Division I after high school. He had some discipline problems. Not every adult at Northwestern tried to help Patterson. Cureton did.
“That doesn’t mean that you give up on him,” said Cureton. “He has to try harder, that’s all. He did try harder. He did better. And look at where he is now.”
Patterson did not quit, and now he will play in the NFL.
For his big night onstage on national television, Patterson was dressed in a sharp white tuxedo jacket and Louis Vuitton belt. He should wear a designer belt. He is a great success whose achievements show the merits of determination.
He should smile that great smile, because he earned that walk onto the stage with his desire.
Patterson will soon make millions, yet that is not his only success. His success is getting there.
On the same Bose Avenue in Rock Hill where Patterson grew up, and where his mother still lives, Dedric Wise was so proud Friday that Patterson had been drafted.
Wise, himself a star player at Northwestern who played in the prestigious Shrine Bowl in 1996, coached Patterson starting at age 7. Through the years, even in recent weeks, Wise has helped Patterson try to reach his dreams.
“Right up this hill, sprints up Bose Avenue, he would run and run,” said Wise. “Cordarrelle has done something great here. He has worked hard, and proved himself, when so many didn’t think he could do it. Or they didn’t support him in trying to do it.”
Wise spoke for an entire city Friday when he said that Patterson has made people proud with his accomplishments, with more to come.
All this comes from a kid who did not start his post-high school life in the glory of a football-factory college. Patterson had to go through the junior college prairie of Kansas after some tough stretches in high school to get to Tennessee, then the NFL.
“I sent him a text message, told him how proud I was,” said Winslow Schock, a chiropractor who for decades has been a fan of sports in Rock Hill. “The message he sent back was what he always sends: ‘Thank you, sir.’ ”
Schock is more than a fan. Like Cureton and Wise, he helps young kids and wants them to succeed. Failure only comes when anybody quits on kids or doesn’t make sure they are ready for college and life.
Schock meets players and families. He greets them and cares for them and cheers for them. His Cheer for Children event, which promotes academic achievement and volunteerism, is among the city’s largest non-profit functions.
“This is a young man who was in the shadows of others when he was younger,” Schock said. “Others received the accolades, were picked for the Shrine Bowl and other awards. Others had the big colleges coming to their house. His phone never rang.”
But Patterson showed resolve.
“He never quit,” Schock said. “He didn’t give up. Everybody who ever didn’t think they could make it to the top of what they want, he just showed that it can be done.”
Kito Patterson, a cousin, went to the draft in New York with several others in the family.
“The family, we are all just so proud,” Kito Patterson said.
Cordarrelle Patterson himself was busy Friday with day-after-the-draft events, so he only had a few seconds to talk on the phone.
He was asked if he had anything to say to the people back here in Rock Hill who believed in him, who stuck with him.
“Sir, tell them I said thank you,” Patterson said.
Then he had to hang up to start the next chapter of his life – one he worked hard to get to.