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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Armwood teammates living NFL dreams

Published:   |   Updated: May 18, 2014 at 02:01 PM

— People remember the epic battles at Armwood High. It was 2007. It was the Hawks’ two dominant linemen, a pair of can’t-miss stars — scary good junior defensive end Ryne Giddins against scary and good senior two-way lineman Matt Patchan, an intimidating transfer from Freedom High.

The ground trembled.

“I remember them putting a board right between us and going at it,” Giddins said.

“We call it the ‘thud’ drill,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. “We’d start off practices with Ryne Giddins against Matt Patchan. That would be as vicious a drill as you’ve ever seen. In that drill, somebody knocks you down, you get up. You get up and try to drive them clear out of Seffner.”

Ryne Giddins and Matt Patchan were going places. Patchan was the louder of the two, bold and brash. But both their games screamed greatness. They were rated among the best in the country at their positions as they left high school. Patchan went to Florida. Giddins stayed home to play defensive end for South Florida.

This weekend found them at Bucs rookie minicamp, trying to live their NFL dreams. Patchan, a 6-foot-6 302-pound offensive lineman who finished his college eligibility at Boston College, went undrafted, but the Bucs signed him as a college free agent. He’s a long shot, even on a team that needs help up front. The 6-3, 245-pound Giddins was there for a tryout. So were 22 other players. It’s the longest of shots.

No matter.

“It’s been a goal of mine for a long time, a dream to play in the NFL,” Patchan said. “Every time I’m in Tampa and you drive by the Bucs stadium you think this is the place where I would love to end up. Dreams come true, so it’s pretty cool.”

“Growing up, I used to run in my mom’s room, jump on her bed and tell her, ‘Mom, one day I’m going to play in the NFL and you ain’t got nothing to worry about.’ ” Giddins said. ‘She’d tell me, ‘ I want you to play for the Bucs, baby.’ ”

Neither man’s college career lived up to expectations. That’s putting it mildly. True, both battled injuries, particularly Patchan. Heck, he was shot in the shoulder, a random victim, as he stood in a Brandon park before he even reached Gainesville. Both Giddins and Patchan played for three different college head coaches, several different coordinators, line coaches and systems.

Florida first tried Patchan at defensive line. He never found his star. After graduating from Florida, he put in a solid senior season for Boston College and coach Steve Addazio, one of Patchan’s line coaches at Florida.

Giddins was supposed to be a game-changer for USF. He showed some flashes but never came close to delivering the real goods.

“I feel like everybody’s story is different,” Patchan said. “Everybody, however they find their way here, they find their way here. I’ll say this: I’m proud of my story. I’ve been through the ringer with a few things and I’m happy to have overcome those thing and I think I’m a tougher person because of it.”

“I just gave it my best,” Giddins said. “How it came out was how it was supposed to be all along.”

Patchan tested well at the NFL combine, on and off the field. He said he scored 42 on the Wonderlic.

“I don’t like to brag, but I’m probably the smartest guy in football,” Patchan said with a laugh.

But he wasn’t drafted.

“I was very surprised. I’m looking forward to the next step now, which is making the 53, then becoming a starter and then becoming a Pro Bowl-type player. Those are my goals moving forward and that’s what I’m working towards.”

Giddins didn’t expect to be drafted, but there was this tryout.

“I think I have a real good chance of making the team,” Giddins said. “When you have the divine favor of God in your life, you’ve just got to walk with expectations, act like a pro, be like a pro.”

Both Giddins and Patchan have inspirations. For Matt Patchan, it’s his dad, Matt Patchan III, who played offensive line at Miami in the 1980s and was taken in the third round of the 1988 NFL draft, though he never made it in the league. Matt Patchan III is battling health issues. He uses a wheelchair.

Matt IV said: “Having him, seeing what he’s going through in his life, how can I give in on something as easy as I’m going through? He’s fighting for his life every day.”

Giddins spoke of his mother, Sabrina, who died of cancer during his senior season.

“I think of her every day,” Giddins said.

It’s a long way from Armwood and thud drills. Or is it?

“Oh, man, when Giddins first showed up here, I went up and hugged him,” Patchan said.

“We got each other’s phone numbers, talked about the glory days, how happy we are to be here,” Giddins said.

“Some guys take the long road,” Patchan said.

“Anything can happen,” Giddins said.

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