‘It’s all about trust’: Defensive line coach says leading with heart, grit is key to success

Defensive line coach Kevin Patrick was a part of USF football’s staff during their first season ever played. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Having joined the staff in 1996 for USF football’s first season the following year, defensive line coach Kevin Patrick said it has been a journey to watch the program endure its successes and failures.

“[The program] is like part of my family and it’s part of my legacy. We all came here at one point in time in 1996 to start this program and I’m proud of all the ups and downs,” he said.

“Not just all the good times – part of the program is they go through these ups and downs and that’s what projects growth, and we’ve done that. I think a program needs to do that to hit a sustainable level of standard.”

Patrick served as USF’s defensive ends coach for the first three years of the program, but left in 1998 to own and manage a medical billing company. 

He returned in 2008 as a defensive ends coach before transitioning to a defensive line coach in 2009. He left the program again in 2012, but Patrick rejoined the staff in December and is the defensive line coach for this season.

Before coming to USF for the first time, Patrick played as a defensive end from 1989-93 at the University of Miami. 

Patrick was a two-time national champion at Miami. He recorded the fifth-highest number of sacks in school history at 23 and made 174 tackles.

Patrick said his coaches there taught him one thing that he tries to teach his own players – perseverance.

“[My coaches taught me] that your mind and your body can get through a lot more than you think you can. One of the things I know my coach has always told me is you’ve got more to give,” he said.

“Nobody has ever pushed any of these guys harder than what they’re pushed mentally or physically when they get in college. The higher up they climb, the thinner that air gets, the tougher and more rocky the climb gets… but [it’s about] understanding that you can endure a lot. You have to be able to fight through it.” 

The foundation of Patrick’s athletic career began in 1985, where he played as a defensive lineman for Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach until 1989. There, he spent four years on the football team and two years on the track and field team.

Though Patrick said his first year playing football for his high school was intimidating, it taught him how to face adversity instead of hiding from it.

“I was thrown into the fire quickly as a freshman in high school, and I was thrown into a fire as a freshman in college for my first game. I remember walking on the field the first time against the varsity and thought ‘These guys are huge,’” he said.

“And what I learned right then and there is something I carry on to this day, and I tell my [defensive] line the same thing, but I went into college thinking the same thing – if you can’t touch me, you can’t beat me. But if I touch you first, I’m gonna beat your a**.”

Patrick said he teaches his players based off of his experience playing in highschool and college, as he knows what the feeling of being a player on the field is like.

Besides remaining tough on the field, Patrick said it’s just as important to remain tough mentally. He said building personal relationships with players and creating an environment of a “football family” is just as important as the physical work each player puts in.

One way to strengthen those relationships off and on the field is through trust, Patrick said.

“It’s all about trust. If your players trust you, and they know you love and care about them, then you can coach them and you can get them to run through a brick wall,” he said. 

“And I think as coaches, we first relate to him as players because we’re all players. I tell the [defensive] line all the time that I’m not gonna ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do or I haven’t done myself. I’m not gonna tell you what the fire looks like or smells like, I’m gonna tell you what the fire feels like. But I’m also gonna be their advocate. We fight for them, we protect them, but we love them and we push them. If you can capture their hearts, you can capture their minds.”

USF football has faced many challenges over the past few years. Last season, former coach Jeff Scott was fired midseason, causing former Bulls interim coach Daniel DaPrato to finish out the season. The Bulls ended the season with only one win.

A challenge Patrick said he wants the team to overcome is knowing how to smartly pivot when injuries occur.

Last season, quarterback Gerry Bohanon suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Tulane on Oct. 15.

Patrick said when injuries begin to plague the team, the players need to be patient and play smarter in order to come back stronger than before, rather than overexerting themselves and playing too hard. 

“You’re gonna get bumped and bruised, you’re gonna get hurt at some point in time and you have to take care of your body. But the biggest thing for these guys is they gotta keep their mind strong – the body will heal, it’s very magical. But we’ve got to be able to endure that tough time going through those injuries,” he said.

“Because it really tries you hard as a man, as a football player and just everything because you want to push and push and go and go. Sometimes you gotta be patient and keep feeding that body with some strong thoughts because you have to heal.”

Though the focus is currently on the first game of this season, which takes place on Friday at Western Kentucky, Patrick said he also wants to make sure he makes an impact on his players that lasts long after they graduate from USF.

“[I want them] to be the best man, husband or father they could possibly be. I tell them that when we recruit them and I tell them all that now,” he said.

“I don’t care what you do… you be the best man you can be, [and be] a good human. I think that’s what we need more than anything in this world.”