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NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The night before the NFL draft, University of Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson met the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. There, at one of the pre-draft parties with low lighting and loud music was Peterson, the running back, the legend -- and Patterson was a suddenly a stunned, small-town football fan.
"It was a little weird," Patterson said. "I walked up to him like, is this really Adrian Peterson? I'm standing right in front of his face and I shook his hand. And I walked off and shook my head -- I couldn't believe it."
A day later, Patterson and Peterson are teammates.
Patterson was selected in the first round in the NFL draft on Thursday. After being picked 29th by the Vikings, the man from Rock Hill, S.C., walked to the stage at Radio City Music Hall wearing a tuxedo jacket, suspenders, bow tie -- and that smile. He was the third wide receiver chosen overall, by a team that traded up to get him.
"I'm ready to be a Viking," Patterson said.
The draft has plenty of stories of players from unlikely places earning first-round paychecks, and Patterson can add his to the ledger. Three years ago, he was enrolled in Hutchinson Community College in Kansas after lacking the credentials to receive a Division I scholarship. Patterson worked hard enough to earn a scholarship at Tennessee, but that was about as far as even his dreams would take him back then.
"I really can't imagine it, being at a junior college so far from home, I never see myself in the NFL," Patterson said.
Patterson played in 12 games at Tennessee in 2012 before entering the draft. That's not a long résumé, but because he averaged 16.9 yards per catch and showed the ability to separate from coverage and get open in space, Patterson was suddenly a viable pro player. A year later, he has to transition yet again.
"It's a challenge," Patterson said, "but I went to Tennessee and I didn't expect I was going to do the things I did at Tennessee, because I only had five months to learn the offense and get ready for the season to start."
Since emerging as one of the top wide receivers in the draft, Patterson has heard his share of criticism. One offensive coach said his responses during an interview at the NFL combine showed a thin understanding of schemes and plays. His Wonderlic scores were leaked, and some analysts openly questioned his ability to function in a well-ordered offense, even if he has the speed to beat defenders one-on-one.
"It's been back and forth," family friend Reico Barber said of the draft process. "But he adapts to whatever. If it's out there, he can do it."
Patterson calls Barber his uncle, but they aren't related by blood. Barber was the assistant athletic director at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill. He was introduced to Patterson when he had to write him up for a disciplinary violation.
Barber said Patterson might not have liked being called on the carpet for his behavior, but ultimately, Patterson respected that he was held accountable. The two became close, even as it became evident that talent alone wouldn't get Patterson into a Division I school.
Patterson's journey from junior college to Tennessee seemed as though it was all a lifetime from the scene on Thursday, the red carpet and television interviews. But Barber said Patterson has earned this moment.
"It's not even a second thought," Barber said. "He deserves to be there because he fought, he worked hard to see it come into reality -- this is his life, it's predetermined."