Passing the Surtain Torch From Father To Son

Photo: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“It still really hasn’t hit me. Like, man, that’s my son.” 

There was a bit of a brief moment of silence and a pause prior to ending a lengthy conversation with a name that doesn’t take long for anyone to recognize, Patrick Surtain Sr. 

It was an overcast and somewhat gloomy March morning in 1998 on the campus of Southern Mississippi. Despite the clouds hanging over M.M. Roberts Stadium, NFL scouts were flocking in herds to get a glimpse of a prospect that was forced to play cornerback after his second day of practice.

Originally an athletic quarterback upon his arrival to campus, it didn’t take long for the coaches to recognize the athleticism of Surtain Sr. 

“Originally, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at quarterback,” Surtain Sr. said. “I had a good arm and I was athletic, but I was the sixth guy on the depth chart in the room. They came up to me and mentioned that I was a really, really good athlete and that I could help out on the other side of the ball.”

There weren’t many occurrences where talent evaluators made the trip to a pro day in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It was the first since back-to-back seasons in 1991 and 1992 where Brett Favre and Tony Smith became consecutive early-round selections. After a single draft pick in 1994, the program went three seasons without hearing anyone's name called on draft night.  

That all changed in ‘98—there, and at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“I can remember going to the combine and running the forty and the guy from Pittsburgh who always does the forty times, he said, ‘son, you just made yourself a lot of money,’ because people were kind of questioning my speed because I wasn’t able to run prior to my senior season because of injury. Then I ran a 4.41 and then a 4.47 at the combine."

Speaking of Mark Gorscak, at the time, he was only in his second season as a scout in Pittsburgh, but he wasn’t nearly the main attraction.

The prospect that scouts hurried to Mississippi to see was Surtain Sr. The reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, Surtain was the first-ever defensive back to take home the honor after the conference was established in 1995. That wasn't the only thing that eventually led to him becoming the No. 44 overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft. He had 13 interceptions and was labeled as a corner with “the best potential” by ESPN longtime draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

With plenty to live up to, Surtain Sr. surpassed all of the expectations placed upon him. In an NFL career that spanned 11 seasons, he recorded 37 career interceptions in 163 games played.

Those kinds of memories and recalls were the types of hilarious moments that were shared during a lengthy back and forth phone conversation with the former All-Pro. It's a career that some have deemed as Hall of Fame worthy, but Surtain isn’t necessarily worried about what he accomplished during his 11-year career. 

Now the head football coach at American Heritage High School in Florida, it’s no surprise that he’s engineered the program to multiple state championship victories, but his finest accomplishment is his own pupil—one that saw him during the twilight of his career with the Miami Dolphins, but is now about to embark on the same journey.

Rising through the ranks as a 5-star prospect, the potential was immediately apparent as soon as you heard his name, Patrick Surtain II. For me, it brought back memories of No. 23 in aqua and orange and a player that was a part of one of the more underrated duos in NFL history alongside Sam Madison. 

This time around though, this was not a Conference USA player who was a former quarterback that was switched to cornerback. A legit 6-foot-1, 200-pound player on the perimeter with the genes of a former NFL All-Pro, Surtain II had the weight of the world on him. 

Despite carrying a heavy burden, the now-former Alabama corner surpassed the monumental expectations that were placed upon him as soon as he stepped foot on campus in Tuscaloosa.

Imagine this. 

Being born and raised in the state of Florida, you are carrying the legacy of one of the best defenders in Dolphins franchise history, but you somehow have to carve out a legacy of your own while playing for the best coach in college football history.

There wasn’t much Dolphins crossover with Nick Saban and Surtain Sr., but the elder Surtain remembers the trade from the team. It was a regular Friday morning in April of 2005, but things changed quickly when he received the news that he was headed to Kansas City in exchange for a second-round pick. There were never any hard feelings or upsetness attached to it because he understood that it was a business and he still had many high moments with the Chiefs.

What is funny though, is how things come together years down the road. Never knowing that the two would somehow eventually team up, 13 years after the trade, Surtain Sr. placed his full trust in Saban to develop Surtain II in hopes he'd become the coach's latest pupil to eventually wind up being a first-round selection.

Thirty-eight starts later, Surtain II became the first Crimson Tide defender to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year since 2016 (Jonathan Allen) and the first defensive back to take home the award since 2011 (Morris Claiborne). Nearly 25 years later after winning that exact award in Conference USA, Surtain Sr. was elated to see his son take home the accolade.

“It was fantastic. Just to see a corner win it. It was totally different than my award because I had the gaudy stats and interceptions. To see a corner win it in the SEC, it goes to show what the coaches feel about you. That teams shy away from you and it’s been like that his whole career.”

Surtain Sr. doesn’t shy away from what has amounted to a mirror image of his younger self. Even though the two have been separated while Surtain II trains for the biggest few weeks of his life during the run up to the 2021 NFL Draft, any games the two play amount to heated competition. Pickup basketball, cards, and one-on-one routes in the backyard have been a constant battle between the two. 

“I don’t know if you saw the viral video of Dwyane Wade and his son, but I will always back him down. He was and still isn’t strong enough to hold me,” Surtain Sr. laughingly said. “I’m trying to win. I’m not going to shoot any jumpers on you.”

Those little glimpses that involve an unbreakable bond were easy to feel. As Surtain II plays for not only the decal on his helmet and team name across his chest, it will be the nine letters stitched across the top of his jersey that outsiders will notice first about him. Once again entering a situation where the weight of the world will be placed upon his shoulders, he has the mental makeup in order to bring back memories of his father, but to also pave a trail of his own as he will officially be passed the torch of the Surtain name on April 29 as an NFL rookie. 

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Founder of ClimbingThePocket.com. Former QB and Coach at North Carolina Central Univ.

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