LAWRENCE — Daymond Patterson remembers the day his football career took off on a frustrating 1 1/2- year odyssey.
The 2008 Jayhawks had just given up 468 yards passing to Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford in a 45-31 defeat, and it was clear to KU coach Mark Mangino that changes had to be made in the secondary. Patterson, then a freshman wide receiver, had proven himself to be a playmaker on offense and as a punt returner.
At a practice early the next week, when Patterson, running back Rell Lewis and wide receiver Willie O'Quinn were all asked to demonstrate their ability to backpedal, Patterson pretty much knew what was coming.
"I was like, 'I have a feeling I'm about to go to corner,' " he said.
The next day at practice, the players were told to split up into their position groups.
"I went to walk with the receivers," Patterson said.
But, as he expected, Patterson was stopped and told to go with the cornerbacks. And just like that, he was playing a new position.
"There was never any mention of playing corner, nothing like that," Patterson said of his recruitment.
This spring, Patterson is back at receiver and is a favorite to earn a starting role in the slot. He is one of many KU players that has returned to his original position under first-year coach Turner Gill. None could be happier than Patterson.
"I'm probably one of the most excited players coming into spring ball," Patterson said. "I love playing receiver. That's where I want to be. I wasn't the happiest person (at corner), but of course if you're not where you came in to play you're not gonna be the happiest guy. But I worked every day to be the best I could and help the team. I wasn't gonna sit there and pout. That's not the type of person I am."
Patterson tried to look at the move as a positive. Playing behind Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and a couple of other wide receivers, Patterson wasn't seeing much time on offense as it was. At least he could help the team. How wounded were the Jayhawks in the secondary? After one week of practice, Patterson started at corner against Texas Tech's pass-happy offense.
That was another brutal defeat, but Patterson eventually helped to get the KU defense stabilized on the way to a Border War win over Missouri and an Insight Bowl win over Minnesota.
Entering 2009, Patterson appeared ready for a breakout year at corner, having a full offseason to practice under his belt. But by the middle of the season, Patterson became the victim of a Mangino whim similar to the one that he experienced in 2008. The Jayhawks had struggled defensively in a close home victory over Iowa State, and Mangino decided Patterson was part of the problem.
For the second straight year, Mangino moved a freshman wide receiver — this time D.J. Beshears — to cornerback. Beshears started over Patterson the next week in the loss at Colorado that began KU's seven-game losing streak to end the season.
"I think I was a good corner," Patterson said. "A few plays didn't go my way. There was a lot of mix-up in the secondary."
Patterson played sparingly the rest of the season. He had sacrificed for the team, but what had he really gotten out of it?
"It's a tough year, but it's a learning experience," Patterson said. "I think it helped me for life, just knowing that everything is not gonna go your way."
Now, Patterson is getting his way, and he'll be a key — along with sophomore Bradley McDougald and senior Johnathan Wilson — in helping the Jayhawks recover from the loss of Briscoe and Meier, the top two receivers in school history.
"Like any team, we're going to have to move on," said McDougald, who had 33 catches for 318 yards last season. "That's how you keep a team good. We definitely have a lot of competition at the wide receiver position."
Patterson, who is just 5 feet 8, makes up for his lack of size with his big-play ability.
"Daymond has some speed," KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. "You always look for speed guys. You want to get the ball to those guys. He's one of our faster young men out there. He takes a lot of pride in it. We like his demeanor and work ethic, and that goes a long way."
So far during the spring, Patterson has again seen the positive in his year and a half at corner.
"I've been on the other side of the ball," Patterson said. "I know what they're looking at with alignments. I'm a better receiver than I was coming in."