Maybe it was coming to the locker room every day and seeing the list of former South Carolina offensive linemen who were busting heads on Sundays.
Maybe it was looking around at his teammates and realizing that while many of them came to USC with him, he was the only one who was a season away from being out of eligibility.
Maybe it was knowing that in 2012, he had had a good season, but it was one of those situations where he did what he was asked, not necessarily did what he could.
Whatever it was, Ronald Patrick decided that part of his career was over. The 2013 season, his last at USC, was going to be much different.
And much better.
“He played well at times last year but the commitment he put in this summer was really one of a kind,” offensive line coach Shawn Elliott recently said. “He’s probably the hardest-working guy we had in there. You could tell he really wanted it bad.
“He wanted his senior year to be his best, and, thus far, he’s played pretty well.”
Coming to USC with a handful of state championship rings (Patrick even won one as a basketball player at Cocoa (Fla.) High), great things were expected right away. He didn’t get much of a grace period — while some of the players that came in with him were on the automatic redshirt plan, Patrick was thrust into the fire right away.
He played in three games in 2010, mostly as a backup center, and was moving back to his natural guard spot in 2011 before the next hurdle nearly tripped him. Something was bothering him, and it wasn’t a minor sprain or twist that might keep him out for a day or two.
Patrick had a cyst behind his eye, and while the medical staff explained what they were going to do and told him there was nothing to worry about, Patrick was uneasy. The saying goes that there’s no such thing as minor heart surgery; it’s the same with the eye, especially with the talk of scalpels and such.
The 315-pounder with the 80-inch wingspan was honest.
“I was scared,” he said recently. “I just prayed about it, put it in God’s hand. When I was able to get back, I looked at it as a second opportunity. It was kind of just a blessing to be able to play this sport, playing the sport you love. It’s an opportunity that I don’t take for granted.”
Once the eye patch came off and there were no complications, Patrick resumed what he’d started. He played in nine of 13 games, finishing strongly with playing time in the final six games, and then started all 13 games of 2012 at right guard. It was good.
But it could have been better.
He was as old as line mates Corey Robinson and A.J. Cann, but they had had a redshirt year. With T.J. Johnson making it five former USC offensive linemen in the NFL (Johnson is on Cincinnati’s practice squad) and the line supposed to be the strongest it had been in years, Patrick realized that he had another opportunity.
Robinson, Cann and Brandon Shell had been there, but not in as many games as Patrick. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw couldn’t do everything. Leadership is never ordered or demanded, it’s taken by the ones who want it.
Patrick wanted it.
“I definitely feel I have to be that, being a senior,” he said. “They look to me. Without a doubt, I feel like I have to be that guy. On the other hand, I have experienced guys around me, like A.J. and Corey, but I look to be that guy.”
It began as soon as the horn sounded on the Gamecocks’ Outback Bowl win. Patrick wasn’t going to be content to sit around and enjoy downtime.
“He’s worked in the weight room,” coach Steve Spurrier recently said. “He’s one of the strongest players on the team. He really made a commitment to being in tip-top shape.”
It’s showing. Patrick is providing leadership and stability to a line that sprung tailback Mike Davis for consecutive 100-yard games, and is also continuing to run the zone-read offense that was constructed for Marcus Lattimore but is evolving to fit USC’s present stars. Helming his spot at right guard, Patrick’s goal every down, every practice snap, every rep on the bench press is to get better. No time for self-pats on the back.
Like he has said since he got out of the hospital, every day is a chance to be his best, and he recognize that his best can be better.
“There’s always room for improvement.”
Follow Cloninger on Twitter at @DCTheState