Not just a gridiron squad

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

With just over three minutes to go in the biggest game in Nansemond-Suffolk Pop Warner football history, one of the most frightening moments in league history occurred. Dominique Patterson had helped the Junior Midget Saints to a 7-0 lead in the state title game against Stafford, but had been injured making a tackle, and lay motionless on the field, waiting for the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s Nightingale helicopter rescue squad.

Sitting on the Nansemond River field, holding the hand of one of his best players, team coach David Birdsong glanced over to the sidelines. His team had crowded behind the fence, and was watching someone that had been one of their biggest weapons in an 8-0 season, the first undefeated year the league had ever enjoyed.

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As Patterson was placed on a stretcher and loaded into the copter, the Saints shouted, &uot;We’re with you, Dominique!&uot; Birdsong remembered at the team banquet Tuesday at the Elks Club.

&uot;That was the biggest fear of my career,&uot; said Birdsong, who helped start the league in 1996. &uot;That night, the football team, the coaches, everyone really showed their togetherness.&uot; The team came together in Patterson’s absence, winning the state title and ending up placing second in the Mid-South regionals.

&uot;It’s never been about winning,&uot; Birdsong said. &uot;We teach our players how to be young men and go far in life. This is our last night together as a team, and what a great year we had.

&uot;We always preached to our young men never to give up,&uot; he said. &uot;They proved how strong the bond between the players was. When you leave the field, you want to know that you left everything out there you could. As time passed, all the Saints knew that they had done their best, and they can look back at a great, great season. I look forward to watching them progress.&uot;

Patterson, Derek Bennett, Derek Wright, Sam Edwards and T.J. Hinson received pride and dedication awards for never missing practices, scrimmages, meetings or games. Jim Hassell, who cemented his own place in team history by yanking in the game-winning touchdown pass in his team’s regional semifinal win over Captiol City on Nov. 20 was named the team’s Most Improved player.

&uot;We put them in any position,&uot; Birdsong said of No Fear award winners Bennett and Hinson. &uot;They were never afraid of a challenge with their bring-it-on attitude.&uot; Zach Wayland and John White were named the top two offensive linemen, and Wright, who pulled down 57 tackles, got the defensive line honor.

The Most Valuable Offensive Player record an all-time team record 1,354

yards, averaging 10.4 yards a carry. It was Patterson.

&uot;He had incredible strength and speed,&uot; Birdsong said. &uot;He never missed a practice.&uot;

&uot;He read blocks, filled in holes, and shut down the line,&uot; he said of defensive MVP Ricks. &uot;He loved to blitz.&uot; Ricks got 54 tackles during the regular season, and 24 more during the playoffs.

And the team MVPs? When he wasn’t running wild on offense, one of them had 98 tackles. The other, a nine-year veteran of Saint football, had 37, and quarterbacked the team, including throwing the touchdown overtime pass to Wright that won the state title.

The first was Patterson, and the second was Hunt Odom.