Zaire Patterson was a multi-sport star in high school and played multiple positions during his football career at Winston-Salem (N.C.) Prep.
But the standout athlete settled in as a defensive end on the gridiron and grew into his long, lanky frame. Now, he is a member of the Clemson football team after signing with the program in December as part of the Tigers’ 2021 class.
“He was kind of one of those guys that was going to be a basketball guy, and next thing you know he’s got his hand in the dirt and they start developing him,” head coach Dabo Swinney said of Patterson during Clemson’s National Signing Day show on Dec. 16. “Then next thing you know, he goes from about 205 to about 240, and he can fly and is long, athletic.”
Patterson did not have a fall 2020 high school season due to the coronavirus pandemic, but as a junior in 2019, he posted 129 tackles, including 27 for loss and nine sacks, and also recorded three interceptions for 78 return yards to go with a remarkable nine caused fumbles.
During his prep football career, Patterson amassed 181 career tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 25 sacks, three interceptions and 10 caused fumbles in 21 games over two seasons.
The 6-foot-6 athlete also played three years of high school basketball.
“He is a guy that’s been a multiple-position player throughout his career as a football player, and a basketball guy, big-time basketball guy,” Swinney said. “But he just grew into this defensive end role, decided to start playing football.”
A unanimous four-star football prospect according to the major recruiting services, Patterson is a national top-100 player according to 247Sports, which lists him as the country’s No. 97 overall player, the sixth-best weakside defensive end and the sixth-best player from North Carolina.
Patterson committed to Clemson in May 2020, choosing the Tigers over South Carolina, North Carolina and numerous other major programs such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
The 240-pounder was honored as an Under Armour All-American, though the 2021 Under Armour All-America Game was cancelled because of COVID-19.
“He’s gained a lot of weight over the pandemic,” Clemson defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall said of Patterson during the program’s signing day show. “But man, he’s explosive, long. Smart kid. He grew up a huge Clemson fan, and that was very impressive when we saw him. Not only a great student, but also a good football player, and looking forward to having him here. He’s also, like Coach (Swinney) says, a great basketball player as well. So, we’re excited to have him here and bring him into our family.”
Patterson is expected to enroll at Clemson this summer.
“We really believe he has a bright future for us,” Swinney said. “Also a great student.”