When Marvcus Patton arrived as a walk-on football player at UCLA from Leuzinger High School in the fall of 1985, just about everyone thought his name was Marcus, without the v . Even the roster and press guide listed him as Marcus.
Patton says it didn't matter much. The v is silent, his teammates called him General, and few connected with the Bruin program expected him to see much, if any, playing time.
This season, the fifth-year senior, now a solid 6-2, 222-pound linebacker, figures to make Pac-10 coaches worry about his skills, and writers and broadcasters do double-checks and takes on the spelling of his name.
"Marcus, Marvcus, whatever, General Patton is a great success story," Bruin Head Coach Terry Donahue said. "He's a true model of a player who came from virtually being unknown and worked himself all the way up to the top of the program."
The Pioneer League defensive MVP of 1984, Patton was recruited by San Diego State and Cal State Fullerton, but not by UCLA, his first choice.
"I was thrilled to be recruited, but I always wanted to come to UCLA," Patton said. "I would have come regardless of whether I was going to play football or not, because UCLA is a prestigious academic school."
Patton, who had a 3.9 grade-point average out of a possible 4.0 in high school, was accepted at UCLA on academic merit.
When Patton's high school coach, Steve Carnes, learned of his interest in UCLA, he contacted Bruin assistant Ted Williams, who eventually invited Patton to walk on.
"I really didn't think Marvcus was a recruitable person, because of his size," Carnes said of Patton, who was 5-11 and weighed 180 pounds his senior year.
"But he was such an outstanding student I thought he should go to UCLA and get a great education even if he didn't play football. Since then he has worked extremely hard to become what he is. All the kids at Leuzinger look up to him."
Patton immediately made an impact on the Bruin coaches, who knew little of him before his arrival in Westwood. He earned a roster spot and sat out his freshman year, playing on the defensive scout team.
One year later, Patton was at Owen Field in Norman, Okla . , playing against the Oklahoma Sooners . "That was amazing, going from Leuzinger High School to Oklahoma in two years," Patton said.
Patton didn't just go from high school to college ball, however. "His work ethic would be a standard that all our other players should live up to," defensive coordinator Bob Field said. "Marvcus worked extremely hard through weight training to prepare himself for football."
When Patton arrived at UCLA he weighed 188 pounds, decent size for a high school linebacker, tiny for college.
While putting on 34 pounds, Patton has retained his quickness and speed. He has relied on this speed to be an outstanding special teams and reserve player for the Bruins, playing behind Eric Smith the last two years. Patton filled in ably for an injured Smith last season, starting the Long Beach State and Washington games.
Patton said one of the highlights of his career came when he intercepted a pass in UCLA's 41-28 win over Nebraska last year. "(Safety and roommate) Eric Turner always kids me about it," Patton said, laughing. "He says if he didn't trip, he would have intercepted it and run it (all the way) back. Instead, I only went three yards."
In his first three years, Patton has made 91 tackles. Last year, his 53 tackles led all other outside linebackers on the team except for All-American Carnell Lake.
Field remembers one of his best plays vividly: "It was in the Cotton Bowl (where UCLA's defense held Arkansas to a school-record 42 yards), and they ran a reverse. The flow of the play went away from Marvcus and he started to flow with it, but then stayed home. The ballcarrier tried to go around right end, but (Patton) played it beautifully and made the tackle for a six-yard loss."
This year Patton should start the whole year at the right outside linebacking spot. In the spring, he made more big plays--tackles for losses, broken-up passes and sacks--than any other defensive player, according to Field. The defensive coach said Patton is equally effective against the pass and the run and will probably be used as a pass rusher and defender as well as a run stopper. "He has tremendous explosion and quickness," Field said. "I'm excited for his senior year."
Patton too is excited about his senior year, but not only for football reasons. A political science major with a business emphasis, Patton will graduate next spring and hopes to enter law school after he stops playing football. The honor student has been an honorable mention All-Academic Pac-10 selection the last two years with a B+ grade-point average.
"I want people to know that I am a student -athlete," Patton said. "Not just an athlete."
Patton also works in the UCLA student athlete organization Athletes for the Future. AFF tours Los Angeles high schools and exhorts students to stay in school and study hard. "We go as athletes because it seems like the kids listen, " Patton said. "But we don't talk about sports; we talk about education. I feel it's very important to be positive role models."
Despite Patton's gentle demeanor, the nickname General suits him well. His father wanted him to be named Marcus, after the Roman emperor and warrior Marcus Aurelius. But he also wanted him to be different, hence the v . The name Marcus comes from Mars, the god of war. "As it turns out, he turned into a warrior on the football field," his mother, Barbara, said.
Patton was raised by his mother after he was 9, when his father, a police officer, was killed. The Los Angeles Police Department is still paying for Patton's education in a program for children of officers killed in the line of duty. Because of the police scholarship, Patton was never offered an athletic scholarship.
"Marvcus was not a problem at all to raise by myself," Barbara Patton said. "He was a good baby, a good kid, and now he's a wonderful young man."
All of Patton's coaches, past and present, agree with his mother.
"He has qualities we'd all like to see in our children" Field said.
"I'm not sure anybody works harder to prepare themselves," Donahue said. "In addition he's a fine young man. We've never had an ounce of problem with him since he's been here, and I can't say that about everybody."
"This kid is really special," Carnes said. "We're all very proud of him."
Patton appreciates what others say of his character, but he'd like to add a few football compliments. He would also like to stay closer to home on New Year's Day, 1990. "I would like to have a good senior year," Patton said.
"I'm also looking forward to the Michigan and USC games . . . and I'd like the team to get in to the Rose Bowl."
Patton has been to the Cotton, Aloha, and Freedom Bowls, all victories for the Bruins.