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Student of the game

It’s a challenging role, for sure, but Robbie Patterson also recognizes the luxuries he has in being quarterback at South Medford High.

The Panthers rank third in the final Class 6A media poll and are the No. 3 seed in the upcoming 6A football state playoffs, which begin Friday, and Patterson’s presence is a huge piece of the puzzle for South Medford.

But the 16-year-old standout is wise enough to know he’s not alone in leading the Panthers (7-2) to 433 yards and 41 points per game as they prep to open the first round against Newberg (3-6) at 7 p.m. Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.

In many ways, Patterson says, he’s got the best seat in the house come game nights.

“It’s a lot of fun just going out there and watching those guys make plays, especially knowing that they’re on your team,” Patterson says of his surrounding cast of playmakers. “Watching Chase (Cota) go up for a ball or Jaylin (Parnell) break a couple tackles or Jaalen Owens go up for a ball or Kaleb (Franklin) juke someone out and their ankles totally get broken … it’s a lot of fun watching that stuff.”

“Sometimes I want to try and eventually go downfield and make a block for them,” adds Patterson, “but that’s not what anyone’s looking for me to do.”

If it were part of the Panthers’ scheme, there’s no denying Patterson would be up for the task.

A 4.0 student with a hunger to do whatever it takes to win, he made strides last year in his first season behind center and returned for 2016 as a more poised and potent guiding force for head coach Bill Singler’s advanced multi-formation offense.

“We have a terrific kid in there that loves football and is just a real student of the game, and that really has helped us offensively do things,” says Singler, who has mentored a host of prolific QBs during his tenure. “If we didn’t have a quarterback that understands our system as well as he does, we wouldn’t be nearly as proficient. If you look at our execution, we’re executing pretty well and it’s because our quarterback knows what to do with the ball.”

Patterson led the Southwest Conference in passing during the regular season, completing 132 of 210 passes for 1,880 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also run for seven scores and shown an ability to spread the ball throughout his steady list of playmakers.

“He reads defenses very well and understands fronts and gets us away from a lot of things that maybe aren’t good and into something that is good,” adds Singler. “You can just see his growth and proficiency as a quarterback with all that.”

Patterson says his biggest focus this year has been on eliminating turnovers, and with a year of experience under his belt, he’s “seeing things more clearly” and building off what he’s learned during film study and on the field.

“Quarterback is a tough position so you’re definitely learning stuff every day and trying to improve yourself,” he says. “Even Tom Brady learns new stuff. I’m comfortable playing the position but I’m also learning stuff all the time with BIll and (assistant coach) Boomer (Marshall) definitely teaching me a lot.”

The best thing he’s learned is to have faith in his ever-jelling offensive line, and get the ball out to the guys he loves to watch work as efficiently as he can.

Parnell earned the SWC rushing title with 1,031 yards and 10 TDs on 131 carries, Cota led the league in receiving with 729 yards and 10 TDs on 40 catches and Franklin is South’s most dynamic threat with 450 yards and five TDs receiving to go with 7.2 yards per carry.

That group, among a host of others, is what Patterson says continually pushes him to become a better quarterback — a position he turned to in seventh grade at Hedrick Middle School after years of playing running back in Pop Warner.

“I want to be on the same level as those guys all the time,” says Patterson, “so it pushes me to become a better player and kind of help those guys out so they don’t always have to make all the big plays on their own.”

All humility aside, Patterson has done just fine in his own right.

Last year, he equaled a school record established by Marshall in 2002 with six TD passes in a game, and he could wrap up his run as one of the top passers in school history. Patterson’s big effort against Sheldon two weeks ago also helped South Medford earn its second SWC title in 10 years.

Still, none of that matters beyond Newberg and whatever may follow over the next few weeks.

“It’s good to win conference and get all the achievements and accolades our team got,” says Patterson, “but you’ve got to move past it and look at the playoffs now and take it one game at a time. We’re basically thinking about it as a one-game season starting Friday and just trying to win each game one at a time.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford junior quarterback Robbie Patterson makes the high-powered Panthers' offense go. He's completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,880 yards and 23 touchdowns against only three interceptions. DENISE BARATTA/MAIL TRIBUNE