July 4, 2024

“Nobody tells you no”: Shea Patterson, his family, and a foundational philosophy

photo credit to University of Michigan Athletics

For Shea Patterson, it’s all about the home team.

“My family is heavily into sports,” said the 27-year-old quarterback, who is to make his first start for the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Thursday against the Toronto Argonauts (7 p.m., Mosaic Stadium).

“My older brother played college football for four years. Both my sisters were college athletes — college volleyball and college softball. My little brother is over at Princeton right now playing football.

“We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Back in 2008, with the mortgage crisis and all that stuff, we kind of had to move.

“My dad, throughout my time in high school and middle school, would drive me hundreds of miles just to go to a camp so I could be seen …”

He paused to compose himself.

“I didn’t think I was going to get emotional,” Patterson said, almost inaudibly, before clearing his throat and resuming a thoughtful response.

“I’m really grateful for my family supporting me throughout my entire journey. They’ve made so many sacrifices, especially my dad.”

That would be Sean Patterson Sr., who co-captains the family with his wife, Karen.

“My mom is just the all-star of the team,” Shea said. “She was a stay-at-home mom and took care of five kids while we were growing up.

“It’s a crazy household, but she’s kind of the calming voice — someone I can call and take a deep breath and just know that she’ll calm me down and let me know that everything will be OK.

“I’m very thankful for her as well.”


The soon-to-be 72nd starting quarterback in the Roughriders’ post-Second World War history was born in Toledo, Ohio on Jan. 17, 1997.

Not long before Patterson entered high school, the family moved to Brownsville, Texas. They soon relocated 100 kilometres to the west (Hidalgo, Texas) before moving, again, to Shreveport, La. They returned to Texas in 2018 and have been based in San Antonio ever since.

All five Patterson children have been scholarship athletes at American colleges, where their academic prowess has also been celebrated.

Sean Patterson Jr. was a quarterback at Duquesne University before embarking on a coaching career at the collegiate level.

Abby Patterson played softball at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Her sister, Kacie, excelled in volleyball at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

The youngest Patterson child, Nick, upheld his siblings’ tradition of academic excellence by being admitted to a prestigious Ivy League school. He is a tight end with the Princeton Tigers.

En route to university, the Patterson kids were active in a number of sports at various levels.

It was a healthy lifestyle but, at times, a logistical nightmare.

“One time, we had all five kids playing on one day,” Sean Sr. said with a laugh.

“My wife, there isn’t anything she can’t do. She made it possible for at least one of us to be at all our kids’ games.

“Karen’s mother used to say to her, ‘You’re like a taxi.’ ”

For the Pattersons, it’s all about fare play.

Hard work is also a foundational principle — one that was established by Shea’s grandfather.


George Patterson played in 59 games for the Detroit Pistons during the 1967-68 NBA season.

Sean’s father had actually been drafted in 1961, by the Cincinnati Royals, after starring at the University of Toledo.

The 6-foot-8 centre ended up playing in two long-defunct circuits — the American Basketball League and North American Basketball League — and even spent a year barnstorming as a member the Harlem Globetrotters’ opposition, in the days before the Washington Generals were the reliable foils.

Then, at long last, it was on to the NBA.

“I’m going to write a book one day and call it My Three Leagues,” George Patterson told the Detroit Free Press in October of 1967. “The only league I haven’t played in is a donkey basketball league.”

Patterson’s path to the Pistons is especially book-worthy.

“My dad wrote a letter to the Pistons’ GM, asking for a tryout,” Sean recalled. “He was told, ‘George, lose 50 pounds and we have a deal.’

“We still have that letter. Shea has seen it. Not a lot of guys would have the confidence to send a letter to the GM, but my dad had that old-school grit and he was tough.

“He was one of those guys who came into the game when (Pistons stars) Dave Bing or Dave DeBusschere got knocked down. He would take care of business.”

George Patterson, who was 64 when he passed away in 2003, averaged 2.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game during the 1967-68 season.

One fine night, he registered four points and seven rebounds while holding NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain (then of the Philadelphia 76ers) to totals of three and one.

George Patterson reached the highest level of professional basketball despite being cut by his high school team in grades 9, 10 and 11.

“Adversity has never bothered us,” Sean said. “My dad had the mindset of, ‘Nobody tells you no.’ ”


George maintained a love for Michigan sports after his time with the Pistons.

A 1986 inductee into the University of Toledo Athletics Hall of Fame, he purchased season tickets to watch the University of Michigan Wolverines football team. Sean routinely attended the Wolverines’ games with his dad.

The father-son tradition was passed on when Sean took his kids, Shea included, to watch the Wolverines.

“I used to go there all the time as a kid and take the bus ride and see the guys go into the stadium,” the Roughriders’ Patterson recalled.

While at Michigan Stadium (a.k.a. The Big House) in Ann Arbor, Patterson often wore a No. 2 jersey that paid tribute to Wolverines legend Charles Woodson. In 1997, Woodson had become the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.

The admiration for Woodson was automatic, considering that he had starred in football and basketball at Ross High School in Fremont, Ohio, which is near Toledo.

One of Woodson’s assistant basketball coaches in high school was none other than Sean Patterson, who had himself excelled on the court.

Sean played baseball and basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside before concentrating on the latter sport at Ohio-based Defiance College.

As the years passed, Shea became a multi-sport success in his own right.

His skills in football, baseball and basketball were on display at Hidalgo High School (Grade 9), Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport (10 and 11) and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. (12).


Long before graduating from high school, Shea was touted as a blue-chip college prospect.

“I’ve got to tell you this story,” Sean said with a laugh.

“One recruiting site labelled Shea as the Number 1 pocket passer in the country, coming out of high school.

“I didn’t want him to be labelled as non-athletic or someone who couldn’t escape the pocket, so I told his brother Sean to go over to the gym and play basketball with Shea.

“They shot some video of Sean throwing some alley-oop passes and Shea dunking with two hands and hanging from the rim … things like that.

“We sent that out and, the next thing you know, he was the Number 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country!”


Next stop: Oxford, Miss.

The initial blueprint called for Shea to be a redshirt for the entirety of the University of Mississippi Rebels’ 2016 football season.

That all changed when the Rebels’ starting quarterback, Chad Kelly, suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 5, 2016.

Head Coach Hugh Freeze eventually made the bold decision to hand the reins to Shea, who at 19 became the first freshman to start at quarterback for Ole Miss since 1998.

He wasn’t exactly eased into the role.

On Nov. 12, 2016, the Rebels were in College Station to face the Texas A&M Aggies, who were then the NCAA’s eighth-ranked team.

“I was in the parking lot before the game when I got a call from Hugh Freeze,” Sean recalled. “He said, ‘Are you ready? We’re going to turn him loose today!’ ”

Patterson responded by throwing for 338 yards in addition to carrying the ball 15 times for 64 yards.

The raw numbers, as impressive as they are, don’t tell the complete story.

Texas A&M entered the fourth quarter with a 21-6 lead, to the delight of most of the 104,892 spectators at Kyle Field.

Patterson responded with two touchdown passes as the Rebels outscored the home side 23-7 over the final 15 minutes.

The punctuation mark was provided by Gary Wunderlich, whose 39-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining was the difference as Ole Miss won 29-28.

Afterwards, lavish praise was dispensed by Freeze, who had been in attendance when Patterson led Calvary Baptist to victory in the 2014 Louisiana Division III state championship game.

“I’ve recruited this kid since he was a ninth-grader,” Freeze told the Bryan College Station Eagle. “I’ve kind of known all along that he had that ‘it’ quality about him.

“I leave very few high school games (thinking) that the kid is just a no-brainer. I got one opportunity to watch him play and I left that game with a man-crush on him.”

The crush of excitement after Ole Miss versus Texas A&M left a lasting impression on Patterson.

“That’s one moment that I always look back on and that I’m very grateful for,” he said on Wednesday.

“That was an awesome feeling (in 2016). I’ve got a similar feeling this go-round.

“That stadium (in College Station) was awesome — loud, rockin’ and great energy — and I feel like this is very similar at Mosaic. It’s just the atmosphere. I’m ready to feel it and thrive off it with my teammates.”

In three games as a freshman at Ole Miss, he threw for 880 yards and six TDs. He also rushed for 169 yards while wearing the same number (20) that adorned his grandfather’s jersey with the Pistons.

Patterson produced 17 majors through the air before his sophomore season ended in the seventh game due to a knee injury. He was leading the Southeastern Conference in passing yards (2,259) at the time he was sidelined.


With Ole Miss serving a bowl ban due to violations of NCAA rules, Patterson opted to transfer to Michigan and join the college football team he had supported so ardently as a youngster.

There was only one snag: Patterson sought to sport the Wolverines’ No. 2 jersey — a throwback to his preferred look as a young U of M supporter.

“I remember saying to Shea, ‘You’ve got to call Charles Woodson if you want to wear that number,’ ” Sean Sr. said with a chuckle. “Shea ended up getting Charles’s number and called him and asked for permission.

“That’s just Shea.”

With the 2018 Wolverines, he threw for 2,600 yards and 22 scores in addition to rushing for 273 yards over 13 games.

“The first couple of games I played at Michigan, it was like a dream come true,” Patterson said. “Playing there, it was like full circle.

“As the games go on, you get a sense of gratitude right before the kickoff, when the national anthem’s playing. Just being in that atmosphere really, definitely gets me ready for playing in a place like (Mosaic Stadium).”

“It’s the best stadium, the best organization.”

As a senior at Michigan, Patterson increased his passing yardage total to 3,061 and his touchdown-pass count to 23. Three of those TD tosses came in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State, even though he suffered a partially torn oblique muscle on the Wolverines’ first play from scrimmage.

In one two-game stretch, he threw for 750 yards and nine majors. He rushed for three TDs in another contest.

Patterson completed his two-year stay in Ann Arbor with 5,661 passing yards. In his final game, he leapfrogged Tom Brady and ascended to seventh on the Wolverines’ all-time list.


At one point, it appeared that baseball would be a post-college option for Patterson.

Before his junior year at Michigan, he had signed with the Texas Rangers — who had selected him in the 39th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft — with the provision that any minor-league duty be deferred until after his NCAA football obligations had been honoured.

His passion for football ultimately took precedence over playing third base.

He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent on May 3, 2010 and spent 2½ months with an NFL team that showcased superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Patterson’s introduction to the CFL took place on June 16, 2021, when he signed with the B.C. Lions.

For Sean Sr., Canadian professional football was hardly a novelty.

“Dave Fleming, who used to play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, was from my dad’s old neighbourhood — Hazelwood, which is a neighbourhood of Pittsburgh,” Sean said.

“We used to live near Detroit and we could get the Canadian TV stations from Windsor, so my dad would turn the TV to Channel 9 and watch the CFL anytime a Hamilton Tiger-Cats game was on.

“So I’ve known about the CFL and the Riders for a long time.”

Patterson’s first season in the CFL was spent with the Lions and Montreal Alouettes. He signed with Montreal in September of 2021, shortly after being released by B.C., and appeared in five games as the Alouettes’ short-yardage quarterback.

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Patterson spent the 2022 season in the fledgling United States Football League. He was drafted first overall by the Michigan Panthers and later claimed by the New Orleans Breakers.


He returned to the CFL after signing with Saskatchewan on Feb. 13, 2023. In 13 games, he rushed 15 times for 39 yards and two TDs and completed four of six passes for 32 yards.

This past spring, Patterson earned the Roughriders’ No. 2 quarterbacking job while maintaining the short-yardage responsibilities.

The role changed shortly before halftime on June 23, when No. 1 pivot Trevor Harris suffered a knee injury that is expected to sideline him for at least a month.

Patterson took over behind centre and helped the Roughriders secure a 36-20 victory over Hamilton — Dave Fleming’s old team — and improve their record to 3-0.

In the crowd that evening at Mosaic Stadium was Sean Patterson Sr., who arrived in Regina after making multiple airline connections.

“Away from the field, you wouldn’t know Shea was a football player,” his father said, reflecting on time shared with his son in Regina. “He isn’t out wearing all football stuff. He’s almost sheepish about it.

“He’s kind of an old-school throwback. He’s not looking for the limelight.

“He loves football, but he plays for his teammates and he plays for the community. He knows what the organization means to the community and that the team’s history means a lot to the people of Saskatchewan.

“He’s going to be team-first, almost to a fault. He’ll do anything he can to win and make the organization and the fans proud. He’s not a guy who’s going out there and trying to get stats.”


Following a bye week, the Roughriders returned to the practice field on Sunday with Patterson receiving most of the reps with the first-team offence.

“He’s a plus athlete and he’s got great arm strength and he can create,” Offensive Co-ordinator Marc Mueller said.

“The guys who can move around and create, you always keep your eye on. I’m looking forward to seeing Shea operate the offence the best way he can.”

Mueller’s first memories of Patterson date back to Nov. 12, 2016 and the Ole Miss/Texas A&M classic.

“He came in as a true freshman,” the Roughriders’ play-caller recalled. “I watched it on TV.”

And now, all of Rider Nation is preparing to watch Patterson operate the offence.

“That boy is something special,” receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker marvelled earlier this week. “Every single day, he does something to amaze all of us. I’m excited to see him rock out on Thursday.”

When asked to elaborate on the source of amazement, Schaffer-Baker chuckled.

“You guys are going to have to see on Thursday,” he said. “I can’t give out any secrets. Magicians never reveal their secrets.”

There isn’t any secret to the importance of good, old-fashioned hard work. Earlier this week, Head Coach Corey Mace said he often arrives at Mosaic Stadium early in the morning and sees that Patterson’s vehicle is already in the parking lot.

“He’s in there at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Sean said from San Antonio. “Then he’ll call us at 8 o’clock in the evening and say, ‘Love y’all. Good-night.’ ”