Tommy Myatt still remembers the first ever rugby match in which he coached Gabe Patton.
Patton, who became intrigued with the sport partly because of the influence of his friend and Myatt’s son, Ty, and partly because his own father had played, was a good pupil and followed each instruction Myatt gave him that first contest against the Triad Dogs back 2012.
As Myatt recalls, however, he admittedly had “over-coached” the new player and at halftime demanded Patton forget everything he had learned and just run.
“Gabe had focused and worked hard to follow my instructions to the tee in that first half,” Myatt, Patton’s current coach for the U19 Raleigh Rattlesnakes, recalls. “At halftime, I instructed Gabe to forget everything that I had taught him to (that) point and to do what came natural to him, and just ‘run’ for the opponent’s goal with the ball. It worked – I think Gabe scored five times or more in the second half.
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“You cannot coach that.”
It seems Patton has taken to the game naturally ever since and has become an important fixture for the Rattlesnakes youth club affiliated with the Raleigh Rugby Football Club.
The Rattlesnakes won the North Carolina Youth Rugby Union 2014 State Championship with Patton adeptly serving as wing, outside and inside center.
“He is a team leader by example and maintains one of the best positive attitudes that you can bring to a team environment and that is an admirable intangible,” said Myatt. “He is rugged as well as speedy and very coachable.”
It’s that speed and physicality that helped get Patton, a rising sophomore at Corinth Holders High School, named to the North Carolina All-State rugby team for the second year in a row.
As a member of the all-state team, Patton traveled to Clemson University for an exhibition game against South Carolina before going to Atlanta’s Life University for the South Regional All-Star Tournament
“It was an honor to be part of that team,” Patton said. “I love this sport, I love where I live and I was thrilled at the opportunity to represent North Carolina in the Southern RAST.”
Patton ran for a 50-meter try to help North Carolina defeat South Carolina 22-5. He also ran one in from 60 meters out in a 17-6 victory over Tennessee before North Carolina went on to defeat Georgia twice, including a hard-fought, 10-5 championship win, to sweep the tournament.
Patton, who started at inside center for all of the RAST games, did all of this playing up in age in the U19 division despite being just 15 years old.
“I knew it would be a big challenge, not just because of the physical side but the older players had a lot more experience than I did,” Patton said. “I am blessed with decent speed for my size so my mentality was ... if they are bigger than me then I am faster than them, and if they are faster than me hopefully I’m stronger.
“There were times when I was passed the ball and just ran for my life.”
Patton was also selected to the 2013-14 Eagle Impact Rugby Academy, a program established by USA Rugby to identify young elite players.
“Gabe is still young, but his play has matured tremendously,” Myatt said. “He has become an excellent up-the-field runner and his defense has been stellar. His youth grants him some years left to play with the Raleigh Rattlesnakes U19 club and I do not think we have seen his best yet, which in and of itself is exciting.
“Get your popcorn (ready) for the next two seasons.”