When Da'Quan Patton began practicing for Kansas State last spring he was billed as one of the biggest and most athletic linebackers on the roster, but he didn't know enough about the Wildcats' defensive principles to turn his talent into tackles.
One year later, that no longer seems like a problem.
Patton, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound former junior-college star, has emerged as one of K-State's best all-around linebackers.
"He has really come along well this spring," K-State football coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday at a news conference. "I am pleased with what he has done. It take a good deal of time to truly become acclimated to so many things. The biggest thing for him — and he's a bright young guy — is being able to process information. He has made progress."
Patton has noticed a difference in his game.
Last year, he felt like he belonged on the same field as his teammates athletically, but couldn't say the same about the mental side of the game. His talents shined when he made the right pre-snap reads. But that didn't happen all that much. More often, he lined up in the wrong gap and got beat.
That was somewhat to be expected given his whirlwind journey to Manhattan. Patton originally planned to enroll at California out of Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, where he was a second-team All-American and a highly rated juco recruit. But he landed at K-State when Cal surprisingly fired Sonny Dykes weeks before national signing day.
Patton also broke his left thumb midway through the spring, forcing him to miss valuable practice time and the team's annual spring game.
The Wildcats hoped he could push for a starting spot immediately. Instead, he sat out his first year with a redshirt.
Now, with the departures of top linebackers Jayd Kirby and Trent Tanking, Patton is ready to make the jump.
"I feel like I have gotten a lot smarter on the field," Patton said Tuesday. "I know a lot more than I did when I first came in. I have a good grasp on a lot of things, and I am getting bigger, faster, stronger ... I worked hard over the offseason, trying to learn so when I do get on the field I am faster with my reads and keys."
His play has turned heads in practice.
Along with Elijah Sullivan, Patton is though to be one of the leading candidates to fill the tackling void left by Kirby and Tanking.
"He flies around," defensive back Duke Shelley said. "Da'Quan's motor is on 100 all the time. Him and Elijah at linebacker, you definitely see speed running sideline to sideline, making plays and aggressive tackles. He doesn't shy away from anything."
"He can run all day," added defensive back Walter Neil. "He has great sideline-to-sideline speed. He loves to tackle and he is just a leader."
Patton will have big shoes to fill next season, if he ends up in the starting lineup. Though he is more physically gifted than Kirby and Tanking, they combined for 196 tackles last year.
He didn't have enough experience within K-State's defense to match that production last year, but there is hope he does now.
"The dude looks like an action figure," quarterback Alex Delton said. "He is extremely big, he is extremely physical, he is a fast athlete, he is a guy whenever I get loose on a scramble he is the guy chasing me down, and he is definitely a guy I feel like we could utilize defensively. He is a freak athlete. I am excited to see him progress. He has progressed and come a long way so far, but I feel like he is going to keep getting better and better."