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Player of the Decade: Patrick Laird went from no offers, to walk-on, to NFL running back
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Player of the Decade

Player of the Decade: Patrick Laird went from no offers, to walk-on, to NFL running back

Was Patrick Laird the likeliest candidate among area high school football players to make it onto a Pac-12 roster and eventually be seen scoring NFL touchdowns in Miami?

No. But those that know him well aren't surprised to see him there now. 

Laird, who grew up in Arroyo Grande and played football at Mission Prep High School in San Luis Obispo, did dominate at the high school level. Playing for the Royals, perhaps smallest program in the area, apparently hampered his recruitment.

After rushing for more than 4,551 yards and 50 touchdowns in just 37 high school games, Laird received zero recruiting interest, even from FCS schools. Laird rushed for 3,117 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior in 2013. He averaged 223 yards a game and carried the ball 408 times alone that year. 

Still, if Laird wanted to play college football, it looked like the Ivy League was the best option for the all-purpose back.

But he wanted more.

So, he elected to walk on at Cal, a Power Five school in the Pac-12. Once there, Laird rose to college football stardom.

For his work at the high school, college and NFL level, Laird is a finalist for the Times' Player of the Decade. The Times compiled a list of nominees after polling area coaches for the top players from the 2010 through 2019 seasons. Laird was the lone player from a San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara county high school to score an NFL touchdown during the past decade. 

He actually made the roster and played in five games as a freshman at Cal. He red-shirted there in 2015 and returned to the team in 2016, playing in 12 games and carrying the ball eight times.

Then came 2017, when Laird broke out, going from walk-on to premiere back. He had 191 carries for 1,127 yards and eight rushing touchdowns that season. He rushed for 214 yards against Oregon State alone. He also caught 44 passes for 322 yards and a score. 

Laird continued to produce in his senior season at Cal in 2018, racking up 816 yards on 197 carries with five touchdowns. He also caught 51 passes for 288 yards and four more touchdowns. 

That gave Laird 2,008 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his Cal career. 

During his days at Cal, Laird gained recognition for his touchdown celebration that mimicked opening up a book, an act inspired by him starting a summer reading program called Walk on Then Run. The challenge registered about 3,000 students in the summer of 2018.

Laird was then selected to play in the 2019 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, but didn't suit up for the game due to injury. He was a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the top player who started his collegiate career as a walk-on.

Laird was also a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, which honors the college football player with the best combination of academics, community service and on-field performance. 

Still, Laird would be overlooked once again. Though he had NFL size at 6-feet, 210 pounds and produced against top college competition, Laird was not selected by an NFL team in the 2019 Draft. 

He eventually signed a free agent deal with the Miami Dolphins and, just like he did at Cal, made the roster. Last season in Miami, Laird played in 15 games and scored one touchdown. 

“I’m not as smart as everyone thinks,” Laird told the Miami Herald last season. “I study. I try to work hard. I’m still working on working harder.”

The remaining Player of the Decade finalists, chosen from Northern Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, will be released over the next week.

Laird joins the previous nominees: Righetti grad Caleb Thomas; Arroyo Grande's Garrett Owens, Seth Jacobs and Bradley Mickey; Lompoc's Toa Taua, Ainuu Taua and Lavon Coleman; St. Joseph linebacker Fenton Will; Nipomo receiver Nick Kimball and quarterback Matt Albright; former Santa Maria quarterback Blake Truhitte and former Santa Ynez receiver Gabe Prendergast.

Once all nominees have been announced, readers will have the opportunity to vote for Player of the Decade. The list of nominees was compiled by the sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News, which polled area coaches. 

Player of the Decade: We're looking for the top player of the last 10 seasons

The sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News is looking for the top football player from Northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County over the last 10 seasons of high school ball.

See who our nominees are thus far.

Senior Spotlight Series: Celebrating the area's top senior student-athletes

Our 'Senior Spotlight' series is aimed at highlighting senior student-athletes who have had their final year of high school disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The athletes featured here were their school's nominee for Athlete of the Year or Student Athlete of the Year for the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table's end-of-year banquet that has been canceled due to the outbreak.

Central Coast Classic Series: We look back at some the biggest games in the area's history

With a little extra time on our hands, we are taking a look into the past of prep sports on the Central Coast. Our sports staff has been going through our archives searching for photos and stories highlighting some of the most pivotal games area teams have played over the last two decades.

You can support the hard work of our local sports team by signing up for a News+ Membership

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