RICHMOND, Va. -- James Madison University has always had a strong football program. But over the last 15 years, they have become perennial national title contenders. Even with all of the program's success, this year's senior class distinguished themselves by winning 51 games and playing in three national title games in four years.
Tabb Patrick has been there for it all.
“At JMU the standard isn`t just to make the playoffs, it`s to, at minimum win the CAA championship and actually shoot for past that,” Patrick, a Hanover High School graduate, said.
Patrick, who played linebacker at JMU, said his experience in Harrisonburg was near perfect.
“We`re here all summer, all the guys. We hang out all day long. A lot of us live together,” he said. “I couldn`t have asked for anything better. I couldn`t have picked a better sport. I had a great time.”
Although he earned his degree in political science, Patrick redshirted his freshman year, so he has one year of athletic eligibility remaining. He could come back to this football nirvana for another season, but his vision extends beyond the next 12 months.
“I'm just trying to think not just for the next three or four years. I want to think for the next 20 years of my life. Set myself up for great things to come and take care of my family,” he said.
Before his junior year, Patrick enrolled in JMU's ROTC program, which trains students to become officers in the U.S. Army.
It is a demanding program for anyone, but especially someone who already has the added obligation of playing for a nationally-ranked football team.
“We’re looking for leaders and people that are physically fit and can meet the physical challenges of the military lifestyle,” Lieutenant Colonel Tom Tolman said. ”People who want to do something challenging, something that`s harder than the academic classes. They`re looking for something bigger than themselves.”
Patrick traveled to Fort Knox for a basic training camp where he crammed two years worth of ROTC training into five weeks.
He was the only cadet to earn a two-year scholarship based on his performance.
There were schedule conflicts over the past two years, but football and military lifestyles are similar enough in many ways.
“I knew that when he was away playing football, with the team and the team dynamics and the leadership, that that was just as important or more important than some of the things that we might be doing on a Saturday,” Tolman said.
“From day one you come in, there`s no such thing as being late,” Patrick added. “ It’s always five minutes early, five minutes being on time. First one in, last one to leave. I kind of just carried that over to the military. There wasn`t much of a change that I needed to make.”
His interest in the military didn't come as a total surprise to his family. His step-father, Scotty Carpenter, was a two-star General and the Deputy Commander of the Army reserves. His mother Phyllis was a Lieutenant Colonel and a JAG officer who made a deployment to Afghanistan.
They never pressured Patrick into the military, but he saw success and security in their careers that he wanted for himself.
“People always have that funny face about why are you doing this? You`re D-1 football, why don`t you do it after? I just say why wait? Why not now? Now`s the best time to do it,” Patrick said.
In addition to his virtual college graduation, Patrick also had his commissioning ceremony. He is already a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
“He`s got the physical background, he`s got the mental acuity, and he`s got the leadership skills to be very successful and take this as far as he wants,” Tolman said.
“I felt that I made the right decision,” Patrick added. “Every single door that I`ve opened has been the right one. I`m happy where I`m at and excited to look forward to the future.”
Patrick will spend the summer in Charlottesville and then report to Fort Benning, Georgia in September for his basic officer leadership course.
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