ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh was hailed as a savior when he came back to Michigan, a former star quarterback tasked with returning college football's winningest program to glory.
Harbaugh hasn't been able to do it yet and, perhaps coincidentally, quarterback has not been a position of strength for the Wolverines his first three years.
It is now.
Mississippi transfer Shea Patterson will be under center when the 14th-ranked Wolverines open the season on the night of Sept. 1 at No. 12 Notre Dame. Patterson said Harbaugh has prepared his players well for the challenge.
"He's making the most of his opportunity," Patterson said Thursday night, surrounded by about 30 reporters. "And, so will I."
By all accounts, Harbaugh has found what he has been looking for — a dynamic playmaker at quarterback. Patterson will play behind an offensive line that has improved, according to coaches and players, and he will be able to rely on a pair of experienced and talented running backs, a handful of potentially potent receivers along with perhaps one of the nation's best defenses.
"I think Shea Patterson will be the whip cream on the cake that Harbaugh has been missing," said former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, an NFL draft consultant and SiriusXM Satellite Radio analyst.
If it seems that everything is lined up for a banner year at Michigan, it's been a journey and then some for Harbaugh (28-11 in three seasons and a pair of bowl losses) — and for Patterson.
On a cold day last winter, Patterson was missing his parents.
He had been cozy in a condo he shared with teammates he knew well in Oxford, Mississippi. Now, he was living like a freshman again in a shared dorm room with a bathroom down the hall. His appeal to play this year was still pending, leaving him at the mercy of the NCAA after he left a program on probation.
Some of his credits from Ole Miss, where he had As and Bs, were not accepted by Michigan. He knew only a couple of his new teammates, he was learning a new playbook and he was enduring sub-zero temperatures for the first time since he was a kid. Patterson called his father.
"When do you want us to come up?" Sean Patterson asked his son.
"Tomorrow," his father recalled him saying.
Sean and Karen were on an airplane the next day to see their stressed-out son. They helped him wash, dry and fold clothes at a laundry and simply spent time with him, reassuring him that everything was going to be OK.
"Whatever you go through you have two decisions — get better or get worse," Shea Patterson said. "I've been taught by my parents and older siblings to control what you can control and keep working. It's been a rough road, but I'm so thankful I'm here at this university and that I get to be a Michigan Wolverine."
Shea Patterson is the fourth of five children. His younger brother, Nick, is a junior tight end at San Antonio Christian High School and has a scholarship offer from Michigan .
Michigan's new quarterback was born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised to root for the Wolverines, with Ann Arbor just an hour's drive from home. He recalls watching Chad Henne play quarterback at the Big House with his father, whose family had season tickets.
Back then, his dad would tell him bedtime stories that always included him playing quarterback for the Wolverines.
"Every night before I went to bed if I wasn't being crazy and he had to yell at me, he would lay down with me and tell that story," he recalled. "It's crazy just to think I'm here at the University of Michigan and it's a reality now."
Sean Patterson, a salesman, moved his family south after the mortgage crisis hit more than a decade ago. That means Patterson's path to Ann Arbor included stops in Hidalgo, Texas; Shreveport, Louisiana; Bradenton, Florida and Ole Miss. That doesn't count a short stay this summer working out with the Triple-A Round Rock Express and picking the brains of professional baseball players. The Texas Rangers drafted him this year in the 39th round with the 1,169th pick overall, though he hasn't played baseball since he was a junior in high school.
Coach Scott Ford was glad to have Patterson at Hidalgo High School, which is a mile from Mexico.
"I went over to their house to meet Shea and watched him throw in the driveway to his brother," recalled Ford, who now coaches at Elysian Fields High School in East Texas. "I only needed to see him throw three or four passes to see a quick trigger that reminded me of Dan Marino. I ended up starting him as a ninth-grader over a returning starter, who was a senior, when I was in my first year as coach and inheriting an 0-10 team."
The freshman helped his team go 7-4 and was named MVP of the district, Ford said.
Sean Patterson's promotion at work pushed his family about 600 miles away to Louisiana. The rising quarterback prospect was enrolled at Calvary Baptist, where he was coached by John Bachman and led the school to consecutive state championships.
"When we first got him, you could see the skill right away and later you knew he had that 'it' factor,'" said Bachman, who now coaches at Red River High School in Louisiana. "He's a rare kid who is talented and has a great work ethic."
By Patterson's junior season, he had become a highly touted player who was welcomed to finish high school at IMG Academy where even more people were able to see the mobile quarterback with a strong and accurate arm.
"Shea is a defensive nightmare because he can move, but he doesn't look to run and his eyes are always downfield," IMG coach Kevin Wright said. "Knowing Shea and what Michigan has lacked, he's exactly what they need."
At Ole Miss, Patterson wore No. 20 as a tribute to his grandfather, who played for the Pistons a half-century ago. At Michigan, he is wearing No. 2, a number worn by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.
Patterson called Woodson to ask if that was OK, calling him with a number his father had because he was one of Woodson's basketball coaches in Fremont, Ohio.
"I think Charles made some stipulations that only he and Shea know about," Sean Patterson said.
Patterson started the last three games of his first season with the Rebels and helped them rally from a 23-point, four-quarter deficit to beat No. 8 Texas A&M. He threw for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns with 12 interceptions over parts of two years before his sophomore season ended in the seventh game because of a knee injury.
"He can place balls wherever you want him to put it," said Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins, who played with Patterson at Ole Miss. "One of the things a lot of people don't realize is a lot of quarterbacks' balls are hard to catch, but he has a lot of feel to his passes."
Michigan's passes last season were often high, low or wide.
The Wolverines were a woeful No. 110 in yards passing nationally and 105th in total offense out of 129 programs at the highest level of college football last year. Returning starter Wilton Speight, who has since transferred to UCLA, struggled early last season before being injured and John O'Korn and Brandon Peters followed with lackluster results that led to an 8-5 record.
Patterson was given the OK to play this season by the NCAA nearly four months ago and has been leading ever since with an aura Ann Arbor needs in the fourth year of the Harbaugh era.
"Just walking around, (Patterson) has a presence," Michigan fullback Ben Mason said. "He's not afraid of anything, which is something very important that you need in a quarterback. He just has this swagger that, honestly, spreads throughout the team. He gives off positive energy, which is very good for a quarterback."