Malont’a Patterson is tenacious and meticulous, blessed with speed and an innate ability to lead.
He’s president of his high school’s senior class, has a 4.0 GPA, tutors his teammates and is one of the Washington D.C. metro area’s best running backs. It gets better, too. His goal: Play in the NFL and use his future architectural engineering degree to build schools.
View Photos from Patterson's Inspiration Award Ceremony
For his efforts on and off the field, Patterson is being honored by USA TODAY High School Sports and the Army National Guard with the Inspiration Award, presented to 13 student athletes across the nation who go above and beyond in their communities, and whose loyalty inspires others to better themselves.
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“I care a lot for my teammates. I want them to succeed,” Patterson said. “Anything I can do to help them, I will. It’s part of being a leader and maturing.”
Patterson’s numbers on the field are impressive: His coach, Jerron Joe, said he clocked a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash earlier this year, and a year ago he rushed for 876 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His numbers off the field, however, weren’t always so strong. Disengaged with classes and careless about homework, he squeezed by with a 2.3 grade-point average as a freshman. High school “seemed like a big playground,” he said.
Patterson’s attitude quickly shifted when he realized playing for a powerhouse such as his dream school, Oregon, wouldn’t be possible unless he raised his grades. So he set off on an academic transformation. He’d stay after school to receive help from teachers and targeted his greatest weakness, reading, by scouring the newspaper each morning. He applied himself in study hall and on his own. Patterson's efforts paid off during his junior year, when he carried a 4.0 GPA.
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This year is no different. When he gets home from practice at 9 p.m., more homework and college applications (recently for Nebraska and Wisconsin) await. His workload includes physics and pre-calculus.
“I want to see my mother happy for all that she’s done for me and how she raised me with basically no help,” he said. “It amazes me.”
Now, he’s taken his love of learning to his teammates. Sophomore running back Darius Newkirk said he routinely turns to Patterson as a resource when he needs help understanding math. Newkirk said he’s raised his GPA from 2.5 to 3.0 since last year, and partly credits Patterson’s influence for the improvement. Patterson isn’t shy to advocate the value of good grades, often preaching to his teammates that if they want to play in college, they must make school a priority.
“I used to think school was boring,” Newkirk said. “He’s helped me understand how important it is to do the work. He’s influenced me to want to focus more on all of my classes.”
While the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Patterson is undecided on the college he’ll attend — he holds offers from Rhode Island and Hampton — he’s certain of his career path. In the future he wants to build schools as a way to give back and address overcrowding in city schools.
“He has a mind of his own,” Newkirk said. “He’s a leader to everybody. I really respect that about him.”