For a player whose body of work is as far distanced from his contemporaries as all-time greats like Steve Franco and Jesse Jones – Tyrone’s NIck Patton probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
Part of the problem might be that he was the Robin to Franco’s Batman, a hero for sure, but the sidekick nonetheless. Franco’s precision at times made Patton’s job LOOK easy.
Or maybe Patton is viewed as a system player. During his three seasons as a starter the Golden Eagles were not only operating the most effective offensive strategy in school history, but they were doing it with an incredible arsenal of players that – after getting its beak wet as sophomores – was locked and loaded from Day One of junior year.
For whatever reason, of the all-time greats, of the statistical giants, of the game changing savants who changed the ways in which positions were viewed at Tyrone, Patton is probably heralded the least.
His accomplishments contradict the perception.
Yes, Patton was in an ideal situation for two of his three seasons as a starter. Yes, he was playing in an offense that loved to throw the ball, and yes he had the best quarterback Tyrone has ever seen passing it to him. But it’s not like Patton didn’t do anything on his own. The reason he was open on post patterns so often is because he ran great routes, and no one in Pennsylvania was fast enough to keep up with him. That’s not an opinion. It’s documented in District 6 and PIAA championship track records.
Thousand-yard receivers are not a dime-a-dozen. In fact, at Tyrone only six players have reached that mark in a career.
Patton is the only receiver to play for Tyrone who had 1,000 yards in a single season. That’s special.
In 2011, Patton had 65 catches for 1,228 yards and 15 touchdowns, all records. He had eight 100-yard receiving games in his career, another record. Of the top four receiving yardage games in school history, Patton has three of them. He was named to the Pennsylvania Football News and AP first team All-State team as a senior.
So while Patton had some advantages other receivers may not have had, the kid could play a little bit, too.
Still not convinced? Watch the 2011 District 6 championship highlights against Richland from 2011. While Franco threw for 209 yards that game, it was the Nick Patton show from start to finish.
Patton had what was then a school-record 168 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also had a deflating 88-yard kick return for a touchdown and returned an interception for a score that was eventually called back.
Not all of those plays came from his receiver position, granted. But the point is Patton made big plays when it mattered.
In that way, he was similar to another receiver on the All-Time team – Eric Desch. When the All-Time team was initially rebooted in 2014 and calls were made on social media to chime in on the best ever at individual positions, Desch was universally recognized by teammates and fans alike as one of the top receivers at Tyrone. And it’s hard to argue.
Desch is one of Tyrone’s six 1,000-yard receivers, but there was much more to him than numbers. He was a playmaker supreme and a fierce competitor. In a 2009 interview for a story on Desch in Orange and Black, Coach Franco put it this way: “He’s a true competitor and someone you love having in the game. He enjoys measuring himself against the next guy, and come game time, there is nobody like him.”
When he graduated Desch was the record-holder for career receiving yards (1,458), receptions in a career (82) and receptions in a season (50 in 2009). And as much as anyone who has played the position for Tyrone he loved the spotlight, with some of his best games coming in Tyrone’s premier match-ups.
His ultimate effort may have come against Central in the 2009 District semifinals. It was the crown jewel in a four-game series between the two teams over two seasons when they were head-and-shoulders above what was then the Mountain Athletic Football Conference.
Central had beaten Tyrone 14-7 in Roaring Spring just two weeks earlier in the regular-season, giving the Dragons the conference championship. When the game ended, Central players hoisted do-everything back Lucas Runk on their shoulders for a photo-op that surely was noticed by the Golden Eagles.
In the rematch, Tyrone’s defense wouldn’t budge an inch and Desch, as he often did, made spectacular plays. He finished with 5 catches for 92 yards, but his biggest contribution on offense was with a downfield block that helped to spring Levi Reihart for a 41-yard run to the one-yard line in the third quarter. Steve Franco pushed it in from there for the game’s only score, and Tyrone advanced to the 2009 finals.
On the all-time team, you’ve got to have some receivers who aren’t afraid to get a little dirty, and that was Desch. He wanted to make the winning play in any fashion – with a catch, a block, or even a pass (he threw a 47-yard completion in 2009 against Bellwood-Antis to set up a score).
(Desch also had the interception that ended Central’s last good scoring opportunity in the 2009 semis).
Like the running back position, where complimentary backs were tough to choose after giving the top spot to Jesse Jones, it’s difficult to select a third receiver for the all-time rotation because there have been many outstanding receivers at Tyrone, and they’re not limited to the John Franco Era.
While 1,000-yard career receivers are rare, rare too are receivers who reached 500 and 600 yards in a single season. Until the Eagles began running a spread offense under Jason Wilson, most of the receivers at Tyrone played in run-oriented offenses, and even those players who played for Franco generally played in a system with a dominant tailback. Joe Steinbugl, for example, played in a system under Chuck Hoover in the late 1980s that still had formations run out of a power-I and he was able in 1988 to grab 34 receptions for 576 yards.
When the position was opened for social media input four years ago, the 1999 team went to bat for Steve Johnson, who is a 1,000-yard club member. Players from just a few years later wanted Aaron Jeffries, another 1,000-yard receiver.
It’s true that players from the high-powered offense era – let’s say the mid-1990s and beyond – have a clear advantage over any of their predecessors. It was not unusual in the 1980s for receivers at Tyrone to lead the team and never break 20 catches in a season. But not every great receiver played for John Franco. Nick Getz, for example, had more than 1,300 receiving yards on 70 receptions from 2012-2014 playing for Steve Guthoff and Jason Wilson.
Getz gave way to another talented receiver who, like Patton, may not initially come to mind when considering the all-time greats at the position, but who simply produced in a fashion that demands recognition – Parker Mitchell, who is the No. 3 receiver on the All-Time Team.
It didn’t take long for Mitchell to make a name for himself. He had two receptions for two touchdowns in the season-opener at Bellwood-Antis, and capped the night with a punt return for a score: three touches, three touchdowns. Find a better debut than that in the annals of Tyrone Area High School football.
Mitchell had it all. He had speed, at 6-foot-1 he had size, and he had the athleticism to make tough catches. He was an impact player. As a sophomore he averaged over 20 yards per reception, a number that dipped just slightly to 17.5 when he was a junior.
Mitchell had four 100-yard receiving games in his career, including 223 in a playoff game against Bedford in 2016 where he single-handedly willed the Eagles into tying the game in the fourth quarter, and while that’s significantly behind Patton’s record of seven, what makes Mitchell stand out is his consistency. He had five other games where he caught for more than 90 yards and averaged more than 18 yards per reception for his career.
Of all of Tyrone’s thousand-yard receivers, Mitchell is the only one close to Patton, and it’s plausible to think he could have overtaken him had his senior season not taken such a dramatic u-turn. By Week 6, he was the Eagles’ starting quarterback, never catching another pass after the Bellefonte game on September 22. And yet he finished second on the team in receptions with 20. If nothing else, those last six games would have allowed him to eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, he remained in the backfield as Tyrone’s signal-caller, throwing for more than 800 yards.
On a team that has judged players far more by results than potential, by figures rather than the eye test, the selection of Mitchell is unusual. He was never a first-team conference all-star at his position, though he did earn a first-team nod as an athlete as a senior, and he never helped win a District championship. But when he was on his game it was hard to imagine many receivers from Tyrone better than Mitchell.
However, since No. 3 is not as sure a lock as supplementary starters at other positions, it’s fair to add a few more who are deserving of a look for the all-time team.
In 2006, Justin Schopp burst onto the scene as a Number One receiver and had a season almost as remarkable as that of Patton in 2011. That year, after playing on offense mostly as a blocking receiver and complimentary route-runner in 2005, Schopp exploded for 908 yards on just 39 receptions, which equates to a per catch average of 23 yards.
As the numbers would suggest, Schopp had many big games, going over 100 yards six times his senior season. And it wasn’t like he was picking up charity yards against back-ups in blowouts. Against rival Huntingdon he caught five passes for 143 yards. He torched 9-1 Johnstown for 121 yards on four receptions. In a District championship loss to Bishop McCort he had eight grabs for 132 yards.
Schopp was relatively big at 6-foot, 170, and he had long strides that were the kind of fast that defensive backs never realized until he was striding past them.
Until Patton came along, Schopp was the single-season leader at Tyrone for receiving yards and the leader in 100-yard games.
There are five others who nearly made this starting rotation and who I would love to see, in their primes, battling it out with the top unit in August training camp. Two of them have been mentioned already.
Johnson and Jeffries were both 1,000-yard receivers and their accomplishments are special for different reasons. Johnson was the primary receiver on the 1999 title team and he produced. That year, he had 31 receptions for 810 yards for a ridiculous 26 yards per-catch average. He was a legitimate threat to score every time the ball was thrown in his direction, and he worked his magic in an offense that ran the ball 79.8 percent of the time.
He also made the kind of legendary plays that would merit all-time consideration. The biggest may have been an acrobatic, diving catch in the back corner of the end zone against Waynesburg in the PIAA semifinals that still has fans at that game wondering just how he kept a foot in bounds.
Jeffries went for 870 yards his senior season in 2002 on a team led by Tyler Mertiff that passed one-third of the time (32.9 percent), and where Jefferies was responsible for 26 percent of the team’s total offense. In other words, teams often knew Tyrone was going to throw, and they knew Jeffries would probably be the target. And yet he still shook loose for 48 receptions, which was a record until Desch came along, and 10 touchdowns.
The two other players I would like to see duke it out for a starting position are Jeremy LaRosa and Buddy Daughenbaugh. LaRosa seems an easy pick. He was a starter on the original All-Century team in 1999 when he was still the school leader in career receiving yards with 872. He averaged 23 yards per catch as a senior in 1997 and he was an excellent blocker, a skill-set that was pretty valuable on a team that featured the running talents of Jones, Mark Wyland and Matt Sharer. Daughenbaugh, on the other hand, never put up the kind of crazy numbers you see today. His best season in 1995 he had 28 receptions for 397 yards and 10 scores. But in that incredible season, when the Eagles went 12-2 and played in their first PIAA Final Four, every catch Daughenbaugh made went for either a first down or a touchdown.
Finally, there’s got to be room for a player like Steve Lusardi, who played in the decidedly run-first era of the 1970s and yet established receiving records that would last for more than two decades – if we’re talking savants who redefine positions, Lusardi was the original receiving savant at Tyrone.
Lusardi came out of nowhere to assume a starting role midway through his sophomore season in 1974. He finished that season as the team leader in receiving yards (221) and was an honorable mention selection to the Central Counties all-star team.
By the time his prep career had ended in 1976, Lusardi had established the TAHS career receiving record with 821 yards on 56 receptions. He was a three-time Central Counties honorable mention and a two-time Big 8 honorable mention.
TAHS CAREER RECEIVING LEADERS
Name Rec. Yds. Yrs.
Nick Patton 114 2,338 2009-2011
Parker Mitchell 101 1,815 2015-2017
Eric Desch 82 1,458 2007-2009
Nick Getz 70 1,338 2012-2014
Steve Johnson 41 1,190 1997-1999
Aaron Jeffries 65 1,127 2000-2001
** Patton is the only Tyrone receiver with 1,000 yards in a single season with 65 catches for 1,228 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011.