DENTON - In 2015, Patrick Udofia figured he was finished playing football.
After all, he’d spurned several schools as a senior at Robert E. Lee, where he had 27 tackles and two interceptions for the Red Raiders in 2014.
Looking back, Udofia, now a walk-on redshirt sophomore defensive back at North Texas, wouldn’t call himself burned out.
“I don’t know (what to call it),” he said. “I guess I just wanted a break.”
However, after seeing the Mean Green, a team where several fellow East Texas products play prominent roles, like senior running back Jeffery Wilson of Elkhart, who nearly ran for 1,000 yards in 2016, and junior defensive back Nate Brooks, a 2017 first-team All-Conference USA preseason selection, play several times last season, he knew he still loved the game and decided to walk on.
“I thought I was done with it (football), but I came up here and watched a couple of games, and was like man, I could be doing that, so I just made a decision (to walk on),” Udofia said. “I just missed it I guess.”
Seth Littrell is heading into his second season as UNT’s head coach and Udofia has already impressed him during their short time together.
“He’s doing some good things. He’s growing in the system,” Littrell said. “He’s had a great offseason with (strength and conditioning) coach (Zack) Womack, getting bigger, stronger and faster. The more plays he makes, he’ll get more comfortable, but I’m excited about the things he’s done.”
And since he’s walking on, Udofia made another decision which appears to already be paying off: choosing to remain in Denton all summer to work out with his teammates instead of returning home.
“Yeah, I actually got my name on the wall (in the weight room) for getting over 1,050 (pounds) bench, squat and clean. I think there were only six names for DBs up there. Yeah, it’s been a good summer,” he said.
Since coming to UNT, Udofia has gotten close with his fellow East Texans, but has really enjoyed reconnecting with former Lee teammate Makyle Sanders, a fellow defensive back who he last played with as a senior with the Red Raiders.
“We’re getting real close. It’s nice to have people from the same place you are (from), have people you can relate to on the team,” Udofia said. “It’s been nice.”
Udofia’s adjustment to the UNT defense remains ongoing, but now that he’s been moved back to where he played in high school - free safety - his comfort level in the scheme has increased, which has allowed him to make more plays for the Mean Green secondary.
“I’m honestly just looking at it day-by-day and trying to make the best out of every opportunity. That’s one thing about walking on, you don’t get very many opportunities, but if you can make the most out of the ones you do get, then you get rewarded for it,” he said.
Littrell is only in his second season as a head coach and as he continues to rebuild a program that was 1-11 in 2015 - and finished the season with an interim coach - he knows that good players can literally come from anywhere. It’s simply up to him and his staff to find them and then put them in the best spot to succeed to benefit both the player and the team.
“We give everybody opportunities. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, senior, full scholarship, walk-on. Everybody has an opportunity to come out here and make plays,” Littrell said. “We’re going to try to put the best 11 guys out there and if you’re the best guy, we’re going to start you. If you’re a guy that makes us better and can help us and improve depth (and contribute) on special teams, we’re going to give you those opportunities. A lot of guys are out here getting a lot of great experience and hopefully be able to help us this fall.”
Judging from the early returns, it sounds like Patrick Udofia is well on his way to doing that.
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco.