FAIRBANKS — Many years of preparation paid off for John Patterson on Monday evening at the West Valley High School football practice field.
He was kicking off his career as the Wolfpack head coach, and the native of Houston, Texas, was leading a high school football team for the first time.
“It’s something I’ve always prepared for. Since the first day I could say ‘football’, I’ve been preparing for it,” Patterson said during a break in practice.
Patterson also was following in the footsteps of his father, Pat, who’s entering his 20th season as the head coach at Conroe Caney Creek in Houston. The elder Patterson also has been a math teacher for 38 years.
John Patterson, a former multi-position defensive player for Sul Ross State University, an NCAA Division III program in Alpine, Texas, came to Fairbanks last fall with his wife, who became the outdoor recreation manager at Fort Wainwright.
“I’m lucky enough . . . a lot of guys don’t know what they’re doing with their lives when they get out of college, or high school,” said Patterson. “I’ve known from day one that I’m a teacher and a football coach. That’s really helped me in my preparation for things, and knowing what I want, what I want to accomplish in my goals.”
Patterson will be a building substitute teacher this school year at West Valley, and one thing he wants to do on the gridiron is continue the success that West Valley had the past two seasons under former head coach Daniel Esparza.
Esparza, who resigned to become the head coach at his alma mater, Bartlett High School in Anchorage, led the Wolfpack to the quarterfinals of the large school state playoffs in each of his two seasons.
Patterson, though, wants the Wolfpack to be as humble as they are hungry.
“The tough part was convincing them that they’re talented yet not good yet,” Patterson said.
The Wolfpack were 6-3 last season, including 5-1 in Railbelt Conference play for a three-way tie for first with Juneau-Douglas and Wasilla. West Valley, though, ended in third place team because of a tiebreaker.
In its history, West Valley has been made six playoff appearances but only won in 2001.
“We’re right in the middle and we need to become an elite team, and the only way to do that is to beat the elite teams,” Patterson said. “We have to practice like it, we have to prepare like it and we have to execute like it.
“We have to be humble enough to understand that we can beat anybody,” he said, “but if we don’t work hard enough or execute well enough, we will not win.”
Patterson emphasized goals Monday while he and his coaching staff, many of whom worked with Esparza, were guiding players through drills.
“You have to tell them, ‘Guys, this is how good we can be, this is how good you are,’” Patterson said. “We have to keep working toward our common goal, and that’s a playoff victory.
“How do we go about finishing our goal? We take it one day at a game, one play at a time and one practice at a time,” he said. “We have to focus on quality over quantity at this point.”