New Orleans Saints’ Quarterback Drew Brees’ best defender is Scottie Patton ’90. He doesn’t suit up. He doesn’t have a number, and you’ve probably never heard of him. But he’s got Brees’ back – and his hips, his knees, his ankles and his incredible arm.
Patton, originally from Gastonia, is a 25-year veteran of the National Football League (NFL) and is entering his 17th season with the Saints as head athletic trainer. Recently, he shared a deli lunch on the Appalachian State University campus with approximately 15 students, a few faculty and staff and a fan or two.
Sporting Saints training pants and jacket and looking as comfortable as he must in an NFL locker room, Patton told his audience he was glad to be back in Boone, enjoying a rare day off. “I came up to see my mom, to talk to you guys, to break bread. So, what can I tell you?”
The students, mostly seniors, are considering their own careers. Predictably, the first question was, “How’d you make it to the NFL?”
Patton said his most important career move was landing an internship with the San Francisco 49ers. He arrived in California, a junior in college, worried he couldn’t keep up. He quickly discovered he was far more prepared than many of his fellow interns.
“I had all the tools,” he said. “I’d had the hands-on experience and hours of watching the athletic trainers. My life (at Appalachian) was athletic training room, classroom, track and field, gym. As soon as I finished class, I headed to the athletic training room and stayed until it closed.”
One of Patton’s experiences is legendary around the athletic department. As a student he once taped his tie in a cheerleader’s ankle wrap. “Ah, you heard that one,” he groaned.
Patton returned for a second summer internship with the 49ers and then entered the master’s program at University of South Carolina. Mid-term, the 49ers’ head athletic trainer offered him a job as his assistant athletic trainer. He completed his master’s in sports medicine at San Jose State University in 1996. In 2000 he was invited to interview with the Saints and was selected from a field of eight contenders.
Patton said the job of an athletic trainer has changed dramatically in the past few years. He mentioned the myriad of new treatments and inventions – some of which he dismissed, saying it’s all about the science and that doesn’t change.
Bottom line, he told the students, the job is about the health and welfare of the athletes. “Our profession is getting a lot more attention in the media,” he said. “With all the concern about concussions, head and neck injuries...you need to have a plan, know how you’re going to react. You are always under scrutiny,” he explained. “Even on the collegiate level (when an athlete is hurt) someone is going to ask, ‘What did the medical team do? Who took charge?’ While you are learning, you have to constantly put yourself in the shoes of the person in charge and ask, ‘Could I have done this? Would I react this way?’”
Patton assured the students they were in a solid program at Appalachian. “Four years with the right curriculum, a good combination of clinical hours and classroom experience, prepares you to excel. You can do well. You will be prepared to pass the certification. It’s challenging, not easy. For now, you learn a way to do something and put that on your tool belt…. Know the hows and whys of what you’re doing, you’ll do fine. But in the end, you gotta have that passion, that drive… that’s the reason you do this.”