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Powering Through: Patrick carries on after father's passing

Jacques points to the sky, honoring his late father after his first TD in the XFL during the Vipers Week 4 win over the DC Defenders

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- From comradery and competition to fame and fortune, there is a multitude of reasons why athletes play professional football. While those incentives may be on the mind of running back Jacques Patrick, his foremost motivation starts with his father.

Peter Hayes, Sr., had an intense passion for football that he instilled in his son. The two would often be found playing football together in the front yard. As a kid, Patrick played quarterback, and it was his father who taught him how to three-step drop. 

Several years and a new position later, Patrick went off to Florida State University. He would text highlights of his best runs to Hayes when he wasn’t there to see them in person.

“I don’t know where I would be if my dad hadn’t introduced me to football,” said Patrick. “It’s something I’m forever grateful for, and I’ll never forget it.”

A proud father watched on TV as his oldest son, now part of the Tampa Bay Vipers, played in his first professional football game. He eagerly awaited the highlights Patrick would be sending, not knowing it would be the last he would see. 

Hayes died two days later at the age of 47 after a lengthy battle with throat cancer.

Jacques Patrick with an amazing run, just 48 hours after laying his father to rest.

A day after laying his father to rest in Orlando, Patrick boarded a plane and headed to Seattle. He had dug deep and realized that the best way he could honor his father was by playing the sport the two cherished together.

“I love the game so much, and that’s what my dad would have wanted me to do,” Patrick said.

Patrick was the team’s leading rusher that Saturday and took off for a big 21-yard run. “It made me emotional because I couldn’t send [my plays] to him anymore.”

There’s no doubt his father saw it.

“He used football as an inspiration. He used his father as an inspiration,” said head coach Marc Trestman. “And we’re proud of him and love him for it.”

In Week 4, Patrick rushed for a season-high 108 yards and scored the first touchdown of his professional career. A penalty on the defense gave Tampa Bay a new set of downs, and the rest was all Patrick. He took his team 35 yards on four plays before finding paydirt. He knelt in the endzone and paused a moment with his head in his hands.

There’s no doubt his father saw that, too.

Jacques Patrick punches it in for a score.

War Chant

At 23, Patrick is the youngest player on the team. His former Seminoles teammate, defensive back Tavarus McFadden, is older by a mere 21 days. The two played together all four years at FSU and have been friends since their days as high school recruits -- Patrick representing Orlando’s Timber Creek and McFadden, American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale.

Among the many accolades he earned at Timber Creek, Patrick was named Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year after running for more than 2,500 yards and 32 scores his senior season. In total, he racked up 7,900 yards and 103 touchdowns in his four years at Timber Creek.

The four-star recruit chose FSU over offers from Ohio State University, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Patrick said if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing.

He was productive as a change of pace player, playing in the shadows of current and future NFL running backs Dalvin Cook and Cam Akers.

Patrick appeared in 45 games with 13 starts and rushed 366 times for 1,790 yards and 17 touchdowns. He added 356 yards and one touchdown on 47 receptions. Patrick is tied for 15th in program history in rushing touchdowns and 16th on FSU’s all-time career rushing list.

Pro Days

With a porous offensive line his senior season and fewer opportunities to carry the rock, Patrick’s numbers took a hit. He ended his Seminoles career on a disappointing note with 480 total yards and two touchdowns.

Patrick left FSU with aspirations of getting drafted by an NFL team, but his name was never called.

“Going into my senior season, I got feedback that I could possibly be drafted high,” said Patrick. “To see my senior season go like that and go undrafted was tough.”

Last May, he was invited to try out at Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans rookie minicamp, but both were already stacked with talent at the running back position.

Drafted by the Vipers in the open phase of the XFL Draft, Patrick has been showing NFL teams the player they passed on in 2019.

At 6’3, Patrick has hulking size for a running back. A physical downhill runner, he lands crushing blows to tacklers, punishing them with his acceleration. His stats after contact prove it -- a whopping 223 of his 259 total rushing yards (86%) have come after contact, for an average of 3.5 yards per carry.

As he was in college, Patrick is second on the depth chart -- this time behind De’Veon Smith. The two go hand-in-hand and have started the season ranking first and third in rushing yards for the league.

“We just try to make each other better every day,” said Patrick of his teammate. “He had an opportunity in the NFL and played for the Dolphins, so he’s more experienced than me in that sense. When he talks, I listen. When I talk, he listens. That’s why we gel so well.”

“With him and De’Veon, you can tell it’s like the big brother-little brother situation,” said running backs coach Justin Poindexter. “They’re two of the hardest working guys on this team.”

Offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo echoed Poindexter's sentiments. “He and De’Veon set the tone for this team from early on in training camp. The gift that Jacques has -- the ability to make contact and run through contact and gain an additional 8, 9, 10 yards -- it’s been really fun to see.”

Patrick knows this XFL season is ultimately an audition for the league that snubbed him after college, and he is taking advantage of the opportunity he’s been given.

“At the end of the day, my film is my resume. I want to put good things on tape, so when my opportunity comes, I can get another shot.”