PLANTATION, Fla. — In December 2012, former NFL star cornerback Pat Surtain returned to his hometown of New Orleans and sat floor level in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to watch his alma mater compete for a state championship.
At the time, emotions ran high for the record-setting Edna Karr High (New Orleans) standout, who the year prior was forced to watch his team come up empty in this exact same setting against this same opponent.
This time, the game would bring a different result but the same emotions ensued.
With his then 13-year-old son beside him and Karr putting the finishing touches on a 29-22 victory, Pat Jr. looked up to his dad and asked if he could transfer and play for the newly crowned Louisiana Class 4A champions — just like his father.
“After his ninth-grade year,”Pat Sr. recalled, “he asked me to go play for Karr.”
Talk about a jaw-dropper, in addition to a path the younger Surtain would begin to carve out back to The Boot.
A Louisiana boy at heart
Pat Jr. was born in Kansas City, Mo., while his father was playing for the Chiefs.
He has spent time in Missouri and, of course, Florida, for the majority of his life, but neither location truly registers with the junior cornerback who tends to claim his parents’ hometown as his own.
“All of my family is in New Orleans. Some are in Baton Rouge,” Pat Jr. told SEC Country. “Most of my dad’s side in Baton Rouge and my mom’s side is in New Orleans, but you can say I’m from there because I’ve been there a lot and my whole family is from there.”
There you have it.
That’s part of the reason why LSU has jumped out to an early lead for the 5-star 2018 prospect.
The Surtains may reside in the Sunshine State, for now, but within a 5-hour radius are relatives all across Louisiana and Texas. In addition to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Michelle Surtain has family in nearby Gonzales, La., and Pat Sr.’s mother and sister are close by in Houston.
“It’s good in a way to know that you have that type of support system,” Surtain Sr. said. “We have a bunch of family in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, in that radius that can come see him play. Even if we’re not there, he has that support system to call someone right up the road. It’s always nice to have a familiar face or voice to listen to when we can’t be there.”
That factor has obviously come into play with Pat Jr.
In this type of family, the mantra is family first. That indirectly has given the Tigers an uncanny edge as they court Pat Jr. with the simple message of returning back home.
“It plays a huge factor,” Pat Jr. admitted. “To be home and for your family to watch you play, it’s produced a great factor in my recruitment.”
Learning from a Pro Bowl dad
When Pat Surtain Sr. was a senior quarterback for Karr, there were no such things as blue-chip recruits.
But, if there were, the state championship winner has no qualms about what rating he’d deserve. Obviously, he would’ve been a 5-star.
“We were the first Orleans Parish public school to win a state title since the 60s, so to be able to do that, I’d give myself a 5-star,” he joked. “I was a 5-foot-11 quarterback back then, so it didn’t add up.”
Surtain’s title run and records set in the process landed him at Southern Miss, where he’d eventually start two seasons before the Miami Dolphins scooped him up with the No. 44 overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft.
Surtain chose Southern Miss because the coaching staff assured him he’d have a chance to play quarterback. That was the reason he overlooked in-state power LSU, which wanted to put the elite athlete in the secondary.
“LSU, ironically, wanted me to play defensive back,” Surtain smiled as he leaned back at his desk. “I wanted to play quarterback. When I got to Southern Miss, on the second day of practice, they moved me to defensive back, so lucky me! It worked out well, though, so I can’t complain.”
Unlike his father, Pat Jr. has always been a defensive back, so a transition to another position won’t be necessary when he arrives on a college campus.
His father is more than a three-time NFL Pro Bowler at cornerback, but he’s been privately instructing his son on how to master the craft since he was 5. At American Heritage High, Surtain was Pat Jr.’s defensive coordinator through his sophomore year before a promotion to head coach prior to the 2016 season.
“He treats me like everyone else,” Pat Jr. said. “He’s been my coach since the Optimus days. It’s great. He teaches us a lot of things. He’s just very passionate about the game — not just about football, but about life and stuff. He’s teaching us to become young men.”
“You’re managing 60 different personalities, but that one personality you get to see each and every day,” added Pat Sr. “I find myself watching him, coaching him from the sidelines like I’ve always done. I can be 200 yards away and find him. So, I let his coaches coach him and I manage the entire team, but when I need to, I put my 2 cents in.
“I used to be hard on him, but I’ve simmered down a bit. He takes coaching very well and tunes me out sometimes, but you got to send a message to him. He’s very coachable and doesn’t let the same mistake happen twice.”
The sum of those parts has translated into Pat Jr., a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior, being rated as a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 cornerback in the Class of 2018.
That can be attributed to his coaching, learning X’s and O’s from an all-world talent and 11-year pro. But more relevant is the humility both Pat Sr. and Michelle have instilled in their 16-year-old phenom.
“He brings down some things from the NFL and teaches you stuff about the game and about life, and it’s great,” Pat Jr. explained. “The best lesson is to always remain humble.”
Only 6 passes have been directed at Pat Jr. on the season, which is absolute proof that validates his spot in the rankings. That’s because he continues to make himself better.
Despite his elite size, speed and athleticism, Pat Jr. continues to work at his technique as if he was 1-star.
“His technique is NFL ready,” Pat Sr. said. “He just needs to keep developing the mental aspect and becoming more of a leader. He’s not much of a vocal guy, but guys follow his lead and what he does on the field. He’s growing in that aspect and the sky is the limit for him. At this point in 11th grade, I couldn’t imagine being that type of athlete. As a father, you’re proud, but I want to see him continue to grow.”
LSU represents a homecoming of sorts
With family spread across Louisiana and in nearby Houston, LSU merely symbolizes home for Pat Surtain Jr.
That’s an overwhelming part of the equation for the stud cornerback, who is just about a year away from finalizing his decision.
Pat Jr., along with his mother and father, plan to take advantage of all five official visits and heed advice from his family before making a commitment next fall.
Like he does on the field, Pat Sr. has guided his son through an intense courtship from more than 30 schools into his junior season. That theme of patience has not only resonated with his on-the-field prowess but his college decision as well.
“He’s always wanted for me to remain humble and be patient in the process, just take every offer as a blessing,” Pat Jr. said. “I look at every college as close as I can, see what the coaches like about me and then it will all come together.”
The dominoes are beginning to fall in place, and LSU has jumped out to an early lead for the 5-star cornerback, with family in close proximity to the campus.
Of course, Pat Sr. still remembers his time being recruited by the Tigers and, because he grew up in LSU’s backyard, understands what that program means. As a keen observer of the team, the staff and its players, you can consider dad a fan of his son’s fit in Baton Rouge.
“I’ve always liked LSU and their program, and being from Louisiana, that’s the state’s program and I always want to see them do well,” Pat Sr. said. “You look at the tremendous athletes they’ve produced throughout the years and now it’s crazy. Pound for pound, some of the best guys in high school football are from the state of Louisiana, even onto college and the NFL.
“I’ve always been a fan and I like their style of ball. It’s hard, physical, getting after it, and the amount of defensive backs to go on to have success NFL careers … it’s a place I wouldn’t mind seeing him go, and I know he’s high on them.”
Other factors the Surtains will consider closely are the coaching staff and Pat Jr.’s major: engineering.
You can check off both of those boxes for LSU, largely because of the relationship both Pat Sr. and Pat Jr. hold with defensive backs coach Corey Raymond.
Pat Sr. and Raymond both hail from Louisiana and crossed paths in the NFL. That bond carries weight for both father and son — to say the least — as he prepares to pass the coaching torch to another defensive backs coach.
“We talk when he comes down here, hang out a little bit,” Pat Sr. said. “He’s a cool, down-to-earth dude that does well with his defensive backs. We sit around talking football. You know he knows what he’s doing, so I wouldn’t mind that guy coaching my kid, if I can’t be the one doing it.”
Raymond’s constant communication with Pat Jr. is also something to note. He and interim head coach Ed Orgeron made a phone call to the Surtains soon after Les Miles was fired to assure the 5-star cornerback that change was on the horizon, but Pat Jr. was still coveted by the Tigers.
The consistent message has been received well. So has Raymond’s resume.
LSU is known as “DBU” because of the talent Raymond has helped produce over the years, which Pat Sr. often refers to. As the top junior defensive back weighs his options and approaches his decision, he can’t help but point that out as well.
“They produce great defensive backs like Pat Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu. All of those are great guys and it would be great to be a part of that,” Pat Jr. said.
Oh, and as far as they compare to his dad, coach and mentor …
“They’ve got a lot of work to do,” he laughed. “My dad had a great career, but Pat Peterson is a great one and so is Tyrann Mathieu, so they’ll be there one day.”
All ratings are from the 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted.
Follow Sam Spiegelman on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tiger Stadium.