(Sunday, June 6, 2021 edition)

Three former Rhea County High School Golden Eagle football players, or ‘Eagles for Life,’ if you will, had a sit down interview with The Herald-News and shared what it meant to win the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship.

EFLs Dimitrius “Meechie” Patterson, Eddie Davis and Noel Patterson helped their team, the Lindsey Wilson College Blue Raiders (11-0), defeat the Northwestern College Red Raiders (11-2) 45-13 in the 65th Annual NAIA National Championship, held at Grambling State University on Monday, May 10. The title game aired on ESPN3.

The road to the championship game for all three hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride, as the humble trio of former RCHS standouts has worked hard to overcome challenges and adversity along the way.

Dimitrius “Meechie” Patterson

A determined, speedy, gritty competitor and wide receiver, since his days as an Eagle, Meechie, despite being discouraged after a 1-9 sophomore season, 2-8 junior season, regained his passion for the game his senior season at RCHS and helped the Eagles to a 10-2 season in 2013.

THN:  How did it feel to win the national championship?

Meechie:  It still feels unreal. I’m just in shock that we really did it after having such a long break, missing the fall season with COVID, and then getting to play in the spring. It was our plan the whole time, just to win one game at a time and then we’re national champions. Getting to that final spot still feels unrealistic.

THN:  With battling an injury during the season and even in the championship game, where you were limited to only two receptions, how did it feel to have your younger brother teammate and backup as wide receiver, Noel Patterson, step in for you and score a TD?

Meechie:  Noel really took my role and he played amazing. It was even better than watching myself play on film. It was like watching kind of like my son play. It was really a blessing to watch him get out there and score a touchdown in the biggest game of both our lives. It was just awesome to see.

THN:  Coming from Rhea County, did you ever envision playing in a national title game?

Meechie:  Not really. You just don’t ever think about stuff like that. And then, you get there, and me, Noel and Eddie were sitting around talking in the hotel room late at night. And, we were just sitting there talking, and thinking, it was crazy, we’re about to play in the national championship. We knew we were really good and knew we were a good team and we believed in every one of our guys and Coach O. (Oliver). We had watched film, and we were just sitting there, and we kind of know what’s going to happen, like, if we come ready to play, I think we knew what we were going to do. But, sitting in the room, talking about that stuff, wasn’t overwhelming, but it was like, just crazy, thinking about we’re about to do something. I talked to [Micah] Ruehling the day of the game, before the game, just talking about nobody in Rhea County has ever really won a national championship or anything. So, just thinking about that, it was just crazy. I don’t know how to explain it.

THN:  After making other stops before reaching Lindsey Wilson and then graduating three days before the championship game, what do you hope to do after college?

Meechie:  I’m going to pursue football as long as I can. If I can play football and be paid to do it, whether it is for the Arena League, XFL, CFL or NFL, I’m going to try to as long as I can play. After football, I’d like to coach and stay around the game as long as I can. I want somebody to feel the way I feel about the game one day. I’d like to help somebody kind of like Coach P. (RCHS head coach Mark Pemberton) brought that to me. I kind of stopped loving football my junior year in high school, but when Coach P., he renewed that fire in me and made me work super hard, so I thank him for most of this. He made me love football again.

THN:  Any final thoughts on how it felt to win the championship and the road you took to get there?

Meechie:  I would just say, coming from where I come from, throughout my time, I went to Sports Academy, a prep school, went to a junior college, then went to Tennessee, where it didn’t work out there. Then, I went to Lindsey Wilson and that’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made. One other thing I’d like to say is, people that have dreams and aspirations to do something, anybody can do it. Anything you set your mind to, you can do it. I set my mind to playing college ball and I’ve done it. I set my mind to win the national championship and I’ve done it. I set my mind to be a starter on my team and finally became a starter. I dreamed my brother Noel would get to play with me and he’s there. Anything you put your mind to, you can do it. The final thing to say is, just do what you love and do it with all you can.

Meechie just completed his third year at Lindsey Wilson College, and graduated the Friday before the championship game. He is opting to take his COVID year and returning in the fall to play his final season for the Blue Raiders, where he will begin pursuing a Master’s Degree.

Meechie played in 10 of the 11 games this season, grabbing 32 receptions for 333 yards and three TDS. His longest catch went for 35 yards.

Eddie Davis

A talented defensive back/linebacker since being moved up to RCHS varsity team as a freshman, Davis was on the back-to-back state semifinal teams of 2014 and 2015.

THN:  How did it feel to win the national championship?

Davis:  I don’t know, it was just kind of breathtaking. Because, in high school, I ended up making it to the semis two times in a row, and you know, I just never finished the job. Just being there, it kind of felt like, my mindset was like, what’s next? We went undefeated and we had done everything we were supposed to do, leading up to that point. It’s weird to say this, but I really couldn’t be too happy just because the way my mind was, I just felt like there was more to be done. I kind summarize winning it all, as it was just an unforgettable feeling. Our goal is definitely to two-peat.

THN:  What did it mean to play with two former Eagles as your teammates in the national championship game?

Davis:  It’s really just crazy, because Dimitrius and Noel, they’re really more like brothers because I’ve grown up with them my whole life. So, it was kind of like a double whammy, because they’re former high school teammates and family members, so it was just one of those feelings, it was just like, I’m lucky, man. Right before the game, and after the game, I told them, ‘Just remember where we came from and look how far we’ve come and we’ve got to finish the job,’ and that’s what we ended up doing.

THN:  After falling in the NAIA semifinals to Marian University (Ind.) in the 2019 season and winning this year, while only sustaining one loss over two seasons, what’s next?

Davis:  We only had one loss in 2019 and that came in the semifinals to Marian, unfortunately. But, I feel like everything happens for a reason, and that got us really prepared for this season. The only thing I’m really thinking about now is, I want to spend a little time with family. Then, it’s in the back of my mind, I’ve got to keep working. We’ve just got to keep working. It’s one of those feeling it’s just kind of addicting. Once you win, you just want to keep winning. I’d say that’s why Nick Saban and Alabama do it all the time. It’s just an unforgettable feeling that you always want to feel.

THN:  With one year of regular eligibility left and one year of COVID eligibility, how far do you want to take football?

Davis:  I don’t think I’ll take the extra COVID season, but I’ve got one more season under my belt, my senior season. […] As a kid, I really wanted to make it to the NFL, and that’s still my dream, and if I have any opportunities to play at the next level, I’ll definitely take those up. As of right now, the way my body is feeling, and just where my mindset is, I just want to enjoy life with my family.

THN:  How’s your time at Lindsey Wilson been for you?

Davis:  So basically, coming from a smaller town, it actually makes Columbia, Kentucky look pretty big, which is funny, so I really didn’t expect too much. When I committed to go there, I just wanted to play football. I was blessed enough and got a season in under my belt with my cousin James [Sharp, another EFL]. Then, I’ve been playing with Meechie and Noel, and we’ve kind of been able to figure out everything together. It’s a unique experience; a small town with a big football team is how I can explain it. That’s what I come from, so it wasn’t that big of a change for me. I’ve loved my time at Lindsey, with Columbia being a smaller place, where you don’t have much to do. So, my teammates are really what make my time up there really easy. I claim most of my football teammates as family now, because I’m with them more than I am with my family throughout the year. It was funny; I had to tell my friends bye the other day and I almost teared up, because that’s how close we are now.

Davis played in 10 games this season, recording 17 tackles at his defensive back position, five solo and 12 assisted.

Davis is majoring in Communications, with minors in Recreational Tourism and Sports Management. He hopes to stay in the field of football, somehow and someway, possibly even coming back home and coaching for his alma mater, but Davis stated he hadn’t fully decided yet.

Noel Patterson

A speedy, talented and elusive wide receiver that scored countless touchdowns for RCHS, like Davis, was also on the back-to-back state semifinal teams of 2014 and 2015. In just his first season at Lindsey Wilson, Noel is the younger brother and teammate to Meechie. Noel scored a 48-yard touchdown on a reverse in the national championship game.

THN:  How does it feel to be a national champion?

Noel:  It feels good, real good actually. I’ve worked hard to get to this point. It just feels good, but it feels even better to win it with Meechie and Eddie. I can’t be more proud of all of us because of all of the work we’ve put in, because we worked hard all summer in the offseason. Coach P. (RCHS head coach Mark Pemberton) and Mr. [Micah] Ruehling let us use the field and stuff, so we’re very appreciative of that. We like to do some weight room work, and then hit the field.

THN:  With three years of eligibility left, what does the future hold for you athletically and academically?

Noel:  I’m actually scheduled to graduate in May, 2022 and I want to possibly pursue my Master’s Degree. I’m majoring in Communications, with a minor in Business. There are a lot of opportunities with that major, and I’d like to really get into Real Estate. I do want to finish my eligibility though, enjoy my time in college right now, and win another national championship.

THN:  After starting out your collegiate career at another school, how did you end up at Lindsey Wilson?

Noel:  I had previously went to the University of the Cumberlands, and I was going through a lot, mentally. I was in a long relationship with my high school girlfriend and lost her the summer before our senior year in a bad car accident. And so, I was going through it, mentally, and just had a bad experience up there at school. So, I didn’t really have help and guidance up there, because I was going through that and people didn’t really know it. I left on bad terms there, with bad grades and came back home. […] I worked really hard to get into Lindsey for about six months to a year, while taking classes at Chattanooga State. […] So, after all of that, Meechie and Eddie helped me out a lot, because they mentioned to the coach that I was trying to get up there. So, this is my first season at Lindsey and we won a national championship. Yes, I guess I did overcome a lot of obstacles and adversity. I wish I could tell you everything else, but it’s been a lot.

THN:  How did it feel scoring a TD in the championship game and filling in for your injured brother, Meechie, at WR?

Noel:  I didn’t even know how to react. I was so excited and it felt great. I dealt with a foot injury most of the season, and I really didn’t get to play much again until the playoffs. I got healthy, and then Meechie got hurt. I don’t wish that he got hurt, because I don’t want my brother hurt, but as soon as Meechie got hurt, it helped me out because I’m behind Meechie. So, when he got hurt, I got my chance to shine, when I got in and started against Keiser University in the semifinals and had nine catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.

THN:  What does it mean to win the national championship and be able to share that moment with your brother and teammate, Meechie?

Noel:  It feels great, just cause, having your brother up there and experience something like that with him, it just makes it so much more sweeter, man. Because, I remember grinding with him and Eddie down here on the field, like I said. We all worked hard just to get to Lindsey, and now that we’ve won a national championship there, I feel like all that hard work has paid off. […] I truly believe we can repeat next year because we only had five seniors and basically have everybody coming back. Now, we know what it takes to win the national championship, because we blew every team out by 21 points or more.

THN:  Coming from Rhea County to the successes you’ve accomplished at the collegiate level, all the while, overcoming your own adversity, what would you say to a current RCHS football player?

Noel:  I would tell them to believe in themselves and trust the hard work that comes with being a football player. The hard work is what is going to take you to the next level and make you stand out. I feel that Rhea County football, all Rhea County football players stand out, and they should under Coach Pemberton’s program. Coach P. knows what he’s doing and Coach P. will make you a great football player, if you’ll just listen to what he tells you. So, I would tell them to trust in Coach P., believe in what he’s telling you because he’s just trying to get the best out of you.

Noel played in 11 games this season, grabbing 22 catches for 232 yards and one TD, with his longest reception going for 31 yards. He also had two rushing attempts, netting 41 yards, with the one TD in the title game.

The day after his former players won the NAIA National Championship, RCHS head football coach, Mark Pemberton (Coach P.) tweeted out the following message on Twitter.

“How sweet it is, NAIA National Champions. So proud of these guys, Noel and Dimitrius Patterson and Eddie Davis. What a story of perseverance by all 3 guys.  All three deserve that Trophy. #EFL’s #Champs #eaglepride”