East Webster quarterback Ledrick Patterson, right, accounted for 1,734 all-purpose yards and 29 total touchdowns for the 13-1 Wolverines last season. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
It wasn't too long ago that most followers of high school football believed the well of talent at East Webster High School had run dry.
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Following a playoff loss to Calhoun City in 2008, the Wolverines said goodbye to one of their strongest-ever senior classes, headlined by then-quarterback and current Mississippi State defensive back, Johnthan Banks.
"Two years ago, when guys like Banks graduated, everybody felt like we were finished," said East Webster football coach Jimmy Carden, the Starkville Daily News 2010 Coach of the Year. "People just hoped we wouldn't get embarrassed for the next few years until we could get some (talent) back."
Boy, were those folks ever wrong.
Behind the veteran Carden and the on-field prowess of SDN Player of the Year, quarterback Ledrick Patterson, it took the Wolverines less than two years to transform themselves from an afterthought to a bona fide powerhouse.
While the 2009 season was special in its own right thanks to a late-season surge that vaulted the Wolverines to within two wins of the state title game, the 2010 East Webster squad has to go down as one of the school's most dominant teams ever.
The little school in Cumberland finished 13-1, brought home the Region 2 championship and outscored opponents 556-145.
"Looking at it, when (Banks) and them left, they took a good class with them," said Patterson. "Everybody was talking as soon as they left, saying East Webster would never win another game and stuff like that. We let it get to us. We put our heads down. We didn't work hard at all and we struggled.
"Then coach sat us down in the film room and talked to all of us then-juniors that were going to be seniors this year. That gave us some momentum and we just carried it on the rest of that season, then played great this year."
Much of that success was due to Patterson himself. An athletic, option-style signal caller, Patterson laid the foundation for East Webster's winning ways with both his physical ability and his football smarts.
"(Patterson) is not the fastest kid we've ever had but he's quick and he's very athletically smart," said Carden. "He knows the game and he knows what's going on whether he's on the basketball floor or on the football field. He's athletic-minded and he's a competitor.
"If I'm going to be in a brawl out in the community, I want him by my side because he's going to stay with you until the last man is down."
The irony in Patterson's winning demeanor is his unselfish nature.
While putting up solid numbers himself (586 passing yards, 902 rushing yards, 246 return yards, 29 total touchdowns), it was Patterson's ability to know when and when not to call his own number that was perhaps his most enviable skill.
"That's one of those things that's rare," said Carden. "You don't get that with everybody. Everybody wants to be the hero and everybody's parents want their son or daughter to be the star. That's what is indwelled in most of the kids.
"Ledrick is a guy that wants to win. He wants a team win and he's always been one that will pitch the football or pass the basketball or whatever. In fact, a couple of fumbles he had this year was trying to get the ball to one of his teammates that hadn't scored or maybe hadn't touched the ball that night."
According to Carden, such actions inspired everyone around Patterson to play better. The numbers back it up.
East Webster rushed for 4,218 yards this season. Over 3,500 of them came via Patterson, fullback Timarkis Bell or tailback Demetrius O'Briant.
In the Wolverines' orchestra of runners, Patterson was the maestro, making the reads and determining whether himself or one of his backfield cohorts had the best chance to push East Webster closer towards a win.
Sometimes, such decisions weren't so easy.
"Timarkis, he'll be wanting the ball every play so he'll get to taking it sometimes and I'll have to talk to him and tell him don't take it because Demetrius would be open if Timarkis don't take it," said Patterson with a laugh. "Sometimes I'll just kind of fake it to Timarkis and give it to Demetrius anyway and Timarkis gets mad at me, but after the game, we'll talk about it and have a good time about it."
Using good-natured humor was just another one of the many ways Patterson found to guide his team in 2010.
"Some folks are followers, some folks are leaders and some folks are wannabe leaders," said Carden. "He's a young man that without trying to be a leader real hard, he is one.
"He'll get in their face sometimes but he doesn't fuss, nag and get after them too hard. It's more like a pat on the back or a slap on the seat, just telling them to pick it up a notch or helping them, whatever that situation might be."
While Carden is quick to brag on his quarterback, Patterson's words about the only high school head football coach he's ever known are just as complementary.
They also illustrate the strong bond that can often develop between a coach and his on-field general.
"He looks at me to be the best I can be no matter what I do," said Patterson. "I look up to him like a daddy because he isn't going to tell me wrong and he always leads me the right way. He wants me to do the best with everything I do."
For Carden, he summed up coaching Patterson and the rest of the Wolverines this season in just one simple word â€“ fun.
"You don't get this kind of talent every year and it's a lot of fun to work with," said Carden. "I've had a lot of talent over the years, but this bunch, they all were like role players. They're sort of like the New England Patriots. There really wasn't anybody that cared about being a superstar. They all fit into their roles and played well."
Boosting East Webster's stellar play was the coaching style of Carden.
"Mondays, we come in and have to watch film," said Patterson. "When (Carden) is in there, we've got to be quiet. We've got to get focused Monday through Thursday. He tells us on Thursdays after we get through with our walk-through that on Friday all the work is going to pay off. He says 'I won't say anything. You all just go out and have fun.'"
There was definitely plenty of fun to be had in a season where the Wolverines won 12 of their games by at least 21 points.
"The guys were very easy to coach," said Carden. "They were, for the most part, ready to practice everyday. Sometimes when you have a bunch that you are working and you know you are going to play somebody that is not as talented as you are, it's hard to get up that week.
"This bunch challenged each other and tried to make themselves better rather than practicing for whoever they were playing."
Perhaps such a mindset rubbed off from a knowledgeable head coach. Or perhaps it was a carryover effect from a win-at-any-costs quarterback.
Either way, the most successful football of the area this season was played in Cumberland and it revolved around Carden and Patterson.
"(Carden) is just a great coach," said Patterson. "He hasn't ever told me anything wrong, he trusts me with the ball and he trusts me to make plays. That's what I did."