High School Sports

Patton High football, QB Joe Eakin, determined to prove that ‘we’re worth coming to cheer on’

Patton senior quarterback Joe Eakin was named Burke County player of the year after rushing for more than 2,000 yards as a junior
Patton senior quarterback Joe Eakin was named Burke County player of the year after rushing for more than 2,000 yards as a junior

In more ways than one, Patton High quarterback Joe Eakin is changing the narrative of his school’s football program – both on and off the field.

After he rushed for three scores in a 35-28 victory over crosstown rival Freedom High last year in his team’s regular-season finale, a student section fan gave Eakin a unique gift. It was a sign plastered with “Joe Joe on that Beat,” a pun referring to the popular song “Juju on that Beat.”

Eakin said seeing that, along with shirtless fans with their chests painted red in the brisk November weather, showed him that the team is heading in the right direction.

“Last year the student section was phenomenal but in the growing years we had to win some games to get support like that,” Eakin said. “We had to show them that we’re worth coming to cheer on.”

The Panthers won eight games last year – the most in school history – and made the playoffs for the second consecutive season. They only won five games combined the prior two seasons. Patton’s first varsity football season was in 2008, and until last season, the Panthers had enjoyed one winning season, going 7-5 in 2013.

Last year, Eakin helped produce another, rushing for a school-record 2,152 yards and 29 touchdowns, as Patton finished 8-5. He also became the school’s career leader in rushing yards (3,191), total yards (3,552), rushing touchdowns (44) and total touchdowns (45). His six touchdowns in a game is another school record.

Eakin said there is a noticeable vibe of excitement around the school’s campus in Morganton after his team’s success last season, but coach Tom Eanes said there still may be some doubters.

Patton High football coach Tom Eanes Chris Hughes/Carolina Preps

“There’s a little more excitement in the community,” said Eanes. “Now they want to see if you can do it two years in a row. Right now, there’s still some disbelief in the community as far as whether it’s a program that’s staying where it’s at or it’s just one of those one-hit wonder type of situations.”

Eanes said to continue their success, the Panthers want to capitalize on their tried and true formula – pounding the ball on the ground. Patton’s offense use multiple running backs in the backfield and Eakin is normally under center. That leads to power running plays where the quarterback traditionally hands the ball off, but they also use pitch options. Senior running back William Brawley (5-11, 200 pounds) rushed for 2,556 yards in two years – 1,571 of them coming as a junior.

Eanes said the Panthers will also be in the shotgun formation more this year, to, as he said, “keep the defense honest.” That, he hopes, will create more play action fakes, which varies the play calling. Eakin has only thrown for 357 yards in two years, but his legs are what defenses fear. Eanes said Eakin is smart enough to dissect coverages and blitzes, so he’s not concerned. Eakin also said he’s excited to experiment with different packages in hopes of diversifying his skill set.

“My heart is under center — I’ve done that my entire career here and that’s what I’ve been trained to do,” Eakin said. “But I do like that we’re starting to get in the shotgun more and that’s something new I’d like to try. Anything new that we can sprinkle into the offense is a plus.”

Wofford is the main college recruiting Eakin at quarterback, but other colleges are interested in moving him to slot receiver, which he is not opposed to. But right now, he’s just focused on this season. And when it’s over, he hopes he left a legacy of success at Patton.

He still keeps the sign as a reminder of it.

“This upcoming season I think is going to be a real test for us,” Eakin said. “I think it will be a terrific season for us if we can get everyone to come together and keep working hard. Personally, I want to be remembered as someone who helped turn this program around, someone who really changed the environment around here.”