CHICAGO — Seated at a table inside Eric Solorio Academy High School, a few miles from Midway International Airport, Quincy Patterson and his father exchange smiles. It is November 18, almost a month from the day when he will officially commit.
Wearing a bright orange sweatshirt from Virginia Tech—the program he will play for this fall—the 4-star quarterback eases back into his chair. Free of shoulder pads, it's clear this is what an NFL quarterback is supposed to look like.
At only 17 years old, Patterson is 6'4" and 230 pounds, despite no formal weight training.
He can throw a football nearly 80 yards. And despite having played quarterback for only four years in an offense centered on his ability to run, Patterson's throwing motion is fluid.
"He's got Cam Newton and Andrew Luck qualities," says Trent Dilfer, who coached Patterson during the Elite 11 recruiting camps. "He will be one of the best players in college football in three years."
But for the player 247Sports has as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the nation, football is merely a part of his story. It's why he's suddenly recognized and stopped in malls and throughout the Windy City, but it will never be what solely defines him.
As he's taking a slew of AP courses, his current GPA hovers around a 4.4 on a 4.0 scale. The second semester of his junior year, his GPA was 4.7. Patterson's father, Quincy Patterson Sr., beams with pride as his son talks about his passion for engineering, his major in college.
At a time when his father needs inspiration, Quincy's accomplishments have provided it. Patterson Sr. has spent much of the past few years undergoing dialysis to treat his end-stage renal failure. As he waits for a new kidney that they hope is coming soon, Patterson Sr. undergoes more than 13 hours of dialysis each week. Both father and son wear "Gift of Hope" bracelets around their wrists—an acknowledgement of their connection to an organ donor and tissue bank in Illinois.
Quincy plays for his father. He plays for the free education it will bring him—one of the reasons he started playing football in the first place. And he plays for Chicago, a city that has broken so many young people before him.
While he possesses more physical talent than perhaps any high school quarterback in the country, one can't help but wonder if he's destined for something more.
In mid-December, inside his Southside Chicago home, Patterson stood by his Christmas tree—admiring the ornaments and lights. His mother, Kimberly, sat a few feet away.
While the sound of gunshots is not unusual where they live, on 64th Street and Mozart, this latest outburst that echoed through their home sounded close. The next morning, Patterson checked to see where it came from. Three people were shot and two were killed a few turns from where they sleep.
"I know about four people who I've had relationships with who have been killed," Patterson says of the violence in Chicago. "Mostly through gangs."
As a result, the Pattersons have a rule: No matter where Quincy goes, he must tell his mother or father first. "That's only for us to know if something happens where he was," Patterson Sr. says. "When I grew up, if you were an athlete people wouldn't really bother with you. Now, there's not that distinction."
Chicago also isn't a place known for regularly producing elite college football talent. The last major quarterback recruit to emerge from the city was Isiah "Juice" Williams in 2006, who played for Illinois.
As a result, getting college coaches to come to Eric Solorio Academy High School, which is a few miles away from Patterson's Southside home, took some doing.
Matt Erlenbaugh, the head coach of the Solorio football team, began sending emails and text messages to coaches as Patterson blossomed. And although his reputation began to grow locally, it took a while before others took notice.
"If he were playing at one of the Catholic schools, he would have gotten more looks early on, but his recruitment was slow to start," Erlenbaugh says. "The stigma exists that we don't produce players. But he has the tools, and he had those as a junior. Physically, he's just a freak."
Nationally, however, word soon began to spread about Patterson. New Mexico was the first to extend him an offer, followed by Illinois.
Other programs eventually visited an area they don't often frequent, wanting to get a glimpse of the player creating tremendous buzz. What they found was that, as wildly intriguing as his potential was, it only scratched the surface of what he could mean to their school on and off the field.
"He's grown up in tough neighborhoods—neighborhoods you hear about in the news every day," Erlenbaugh adds. "The fact that there was no chance he was going that way was such a breath of fresh air."
Its name is Mr. Johnson, and it's capable of operating at high speeds underwater.
Tasked with creating a robot that could move at the bottom of a swimming pool, Patterson and his engineering design classmates went to work.
"We built that robot from scratch," Patterson says, lighting up as he retraces his steps. "We welded it together and assembled everything."
When it was time for the class robots to compete, Mr. Johnson dominated the speed round. But it didn't fare as well while maneuvering around and through obstacles. Overall, however, the project was a success. It also introduced Patterson to a passion he didn't know he had.
Before he learned how to love football, Patterson loved school. Although he has yet to set foot in his first college classroom, Patterson could see himself as a teacher one day. The thought of working with high school or college students who share his academic curiosity is intriguing to him, even now.
"It's not that the school just disregards his athletic ability. But if it wasn't for the announcements or coaches or other teachers, you wouldn't even know he was this great athlete," Robert Payne, Patterson's engineering teacher, says. "And that's because of his personality. He's just someone you really want in your classroom."
"We have always told him that it's about more than football," Patterson Sr. says. "If he didn't have the grades, he wouldn't play. We know that his football career could end on one play, and we didn't want him to have nothing to fall back on."
Patterson is a finalist for the Watkins Award—an honor given to the premier African American student-athlete in the country by the National Alliance of African American Athletes. The winner will be announced in March.
Because of his grades, test scores and a GPA inching up to a 4.5, Patterson's college recruitment has been different from most quarterbacks with NFL skill sets. He received offers from more than 20 programs—a list that includes Yale and Princeton, as well as football powers such as Michigan State, Penn State and Virginia Tech.
"One school told him they weren't going to bother him with academics, and he immediately took them off his list," Erlenbaugh says. "I really appreciate that about him. He puts himself into everything he does."
When the Pattersons and his coach visited Virginia Tech, they met head football coach Justin Fuente in the parking lot. Before Fuente could even talk football, he guided them to the engineering building and introduced them to one of the program's top professors.
Patterson's eyes lit up as they toured the building, speaking a language few high school seniors could or would care to understand.
"In the first 10 minutes of the visit," Erlenbaugh adds, "I knew this was it."
The ball disappeared into the darkness somewhere near its apex, blending into the Oregon night a few seconds after it left Patterson's hand. Having made it to The Opening, Nike's super-recruit camp that takes place at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, each summer, Patterson is exactly where he's supposed to be.
Right now, Patterson is being asked to throw a football as far as he can while a DJ spins music and strobe lights dance. Patterson's throw travels 76 yards on the fly, one yard behind the longest throw of the night by Ole Miss commit Matt Corral.
Throughout that week, the coaches fell in love with Patterson. The conversation among a few of them wasn't about his size or throwing arm, but rather the idea that one day he could be president.
When Joey Roberts, the head scout for The Opening, first met Patterson at a regional event, he didn't curb his excitement while relaying his thoughts to his boss.
"He told me that he found our high-ceiling, high-horsepower project we can turn into a Heisman Trophy winner," Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback, recalls. "He told me I was going to fall in love with him, and that he was one of the best kids we've ever met."
Dilfer, who coaches the quarterbacks at the Elite 11, was so impressed by Patterson after working with him that he's building this year's theme around him: Authenticity.
"It stuns you when you first meet him," Dilfer says. "We couldn't believe it. He's always going to put a smile on your face, and he's always going to give you hope. That's not talked about enough with quarterbacks. The great ones bring hope, and Quincy has that gift."
Although Patterson was the least experienced quarterback to compete in Oregon, he held his own. With highly regarded quarterbacks all over the field, even being at The Opening was monumental for him.
Despite the rawness of his game, Dilfer loved what he saw.
"When a guy has a naturally clean throwing motion, you can teach them anything. And he has that," Dilfer says. "He's got sports-car ability, but really he's the ultimate SUV with 500 horsepower. He's a more dynamic J.T. Barrett, and he will have that kind of impact and with more pro upside if he's developed as a passer. Physically, he's going to have no limitations."
During the last night of the camp, as the quarterbacks gathered one final time, Dilfer thanked one of the most talented groups he's ever worked with. But he also made a point of singling out one player.
"I told them I could build a program out of all 12 of them," Dilfer recalls. "But if they had to ask me to pick one—only one—it would be Quincy Patterson. He's gone through and thrived through harder stuff than the rest of us at that age."
Three days each week, Patterson Sr. leaves his Southside home and heads for treatment, often at the University of Illinois at Chicago. To him, once a residential counselor who worked with adults with disabilities for 20 years, this is now his job. He even calls it work.
Work now includes dialysis every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four-and-a-half hours each session. Because his kidneys can no longer function, the treatment allows him to stay alive. "I tell people I have to get my oil changed," he says.
On Fridays during the season, Patterson Sr. would leave treatment and head straight to the stadium, often hours before Solorio's game would begin. He would then sit by himself and wait in the stands.
"I have bad days—days where I'm tired and there's a pit in my stomach," Patterson Sr. says. "Things I can't explain. But when I'm at the game and in the stadium, it all goes away."
While they wait for a donor, there are good days and bad. More recently, there have been more bad than good. But through it all, his son's triumphs have served as a guiding light. And for Quincy, his father's struggle has become a significant part of his motivation.
It's why he watches film until 2:30 a.m. some nights, often exchanging text messages with sleepy coaches on something he sees. It's why he pushes himself to grow as a player—so he can look up in the stands to see his father smiling back at him. It's why he strives for greatness in the classroom.
Because excelling at football, which is more than enough for many, isn't enough for him.
Seated at a table inside Eric Solorio Academy High School, with chairs aligned not far from where he sits, Patterson and his father exchange smiles. It is December 20, the day his decision will become official.
Although he signed and faxed in his letter of intent earlier that morning, Patterson sits at a table next to his father with pen and paper in hand. Wearing a black Virginia Tech jacket, there's no drama in his decision. Somehow, it doesn't make the day any less meaningful.
Patterson tries to express his gratitude for the last four years. Nervous, he stumbles over some words as he gathers himself and his thoughts. He thanks his parents and those in attendance who have made this possible.
"I'm going where I want to be rather than where people want me to go," Patterson says of his decision to sign with Virginia Tech. "I'm happy to be in the position I'm in. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Patterson embraces his father as the room begins to clear. Then, as the crowd exits, he quietly stacks chairs at his own press conference.
Perhaps he will be the next great quarterback in the ACC. Perhaps his impact will come as an engineer.
Or maybe, as has been the case these past four years, his passions and gifts will complement each other and he'll flourish.