Ben Patrick never considered himself a Division I-AA football player, and for most of his career he wasn't.
When the NFL draft begins tomorrow, Patrick, a tight end from the University of Delaware, could be the highest-picked player with local roots. They are not deep-seated roots, but are local roots nevertheless.
Originally from Georgia, Patrick played three seasons at Duke, where he received his degree in African American studies last year. He took advantage of a new NCAA rule that allowed graduating seniors to transfer and be immediately eligible if they had a year of eligibility remaining.
In three seasons at Duke, including two as a team captain, Patrick had 79 receptions for 781 yards and two touchdowns. The Blue Devils were 6-27 in those three seasons, going 2-19 in the final two.
With a year of eligibility remaining, Patrick was looking for a place where he could get more receptions and wins. He did a little of both, although Delaware finished just 5-6.
Patrick had 64 catches for 639 yards and six touchdowns, becoming the first tight end to lead Delaware in receiving since 1982. He was named to four Division I-AA all-American teams.
"Going to Delaware gave me an opportunity to showcase my abilities and gave me a chance to do things that a true tight end and receiver get to do," Patrick said in a phone interview.
Playing at a basketball school that has struggled mightily in football, Patrick said, there were positives and negatives in being associated with the Duke program.
"Everybody wants to win, and I experienced some of my lowest of lows and highest of highs there," he said. "It was quite a challenge there."
Following his senior season at Delaware, Patrick was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game and was a late addition to the Senior Bowl, replacing Rutgers tight end Clark Harris, who had turf toe. (Harris is projected as one of the top 10 tight ends in the draft.)
Patrick helped his stock in both postseason all-star games, and could be the third tight end chosen in the draft, behind only Miami's Greg Olsen and Arizona State's Zach Miller.
Patrick visited the Eagles and New York Jets. Eagles general manager Tom Heckert feels Patrick will indeed be a first-day selection.
"He really helped himself at the all-star games," Heckert said. "I was really impressed with him at the East-West game, and then he actually got invited to the Senior Bowl when the Rutgers kid got hurt. They brought him and he did a good job. He's an interesting guy."
Most draft experts also hold Patrick in high regard.
"He had a good Senior Bowl week, and that brought added credibility," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "He is my No. 3 tight end and could go late in the second to the middle of the third round."
Patrick's athletic ability has made him stand out. He said he ran a 4.68 and a 4.70 in the 40-yard dash during his Pro Day workout on March 22. (NFL.com reported that both times were 4.75.)
Patrick was listed by NFL.com on its Pro Day report as 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, 20 less than his weight at Delaware.
When asked this week of his height and weight, Patrick said he was 6-31/2 and 254 pounds. Either way, he has the size and speed to play tight end in the NFL.
While some players get stressed out as the draft approaches, Patrick has enjoyed the attention and buildup.
"The chance to get drafted is the opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "I'm embracing the moment and taking it all in."
Notes. Another player who could be taken on the first day is Tennessee defensive tackle Turk McBride, a former Inquirer South Jersey defensive player of the year from Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden.
McBride is listed in mock drafts in the second to fifth round. He visited eight NFL teams, including the Eagles.
"I grew up an Eagles fan my whole life, and just the chance to talk to Andy Reid blew my mind," McBride said yesterday. "I met with so many GMs and head coaches, but when I visted my hometown and favorite team, I was almost star-struck."