Before he knew what was happening, Gary Patterson was holding a baby in his arms.
A real, live baby.
Right there on his football field, thrust into his arms almost without warning.
He cradled it gently, smiled big for the mother’s camera, and tenderly handed it back, more gracefully than any politician.
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That’s how you knew it was one unusual, different, yet enjoyable kind of night for the TCU football coach, who, in a rare move for him, had the Horned Frogs put on a spring game Friday night at Amon G. Carter Stadium to wrap up the off-season practices.
“This is the first time we’ve done something like this in a long time,” Patterson said. “I felt like we needed to do it for our kids, for TCU and also for Fort Worth. To me, this is for the fan base. It’s for the kids.”
School officials estimated that 10,000 fans turned out for the free practice, which included the unveiling of a new Nike-designed “Mach Speed” uniform.
A throng of students and fans, not to mention dozens of recruits, descended to the field at Patterson’s invitation and watched as Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson and former player Colin Jones made a smoky entrance to model the new look.
The crowd surged in for pictures, then found Patterson for autograph after autograph. Players posed for pictures and began signing helmets, balls and shirts.
It might have been just the atmosphere Patterson was hoping for as a thank you to the fan base following a 12-1 season.
“No. 1, it’s a great university, it’s a great town,” Patterson said. “One of the reasons I’ve stayed here is I’ve always felt like there was an opportunity, that this was always here. We just had to keep the faith, stay here, keep building.
“We’re not where we want to be yet — we’ve had one winning season, one big winning season, in the Big 12. But we’ve just got to keep getting better. It’s been a lot of fun, we had a bunch of great kids. We had a lot of fun tonight.”
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said it could become a yearly event.
“I think so,” he said. “I think this is something you always want to do. You start new. You had a lot of new excitement.”
Del Conte, who said the school expects to be sold out of its 32,000 season tickets by the end of next week, credited the student section of 5,000 for being full Friday night. He also said there was another 2,000 people in the club level.
When he broke away from autograph duty, Patterson talked to reporters and reflected on the evening.
“At some point in time, you spell fun W-I-N,” he said. “But it also has to be a little bit more about everybody and everybody encompassing and being a part of it.
“Kind of like signing autographs — some people think that’s bothering them, but that’s what goes along with the job, I think. It goes along with the job and doing more for the people, and sometimes I think we don’t do enough.”
Kolby Listenbee turned a short pass from Grayson Muehlstein into a touchdown, and Bram Kohlhausen found running back Daniel Walsh in the end zone for a short touchdown pass.
Sophomore running back Kyle Hicks made an acrobatic catch out of the backfield, turned in a 32-yard run after a spin that shed linebacker Mike Freeze at the line of scrimmage and followed that with a 15-yard run.
Defensive end Josh Carraway showcased speed from the end in a sack of Kohlhausen, and tackle Casey McDermott Vai brought down Muehlstein for a sack.
Cornerback Ranthony Texada had a pass breakup on the sideline against Listenbee, but Listenbee got him later with a pass interference penalty.
Patterson said he saw mixed results, but noted that the offense is ahead of the defense, which is to be expected.
“The offense is a little bit older. The defense, a couple of the corners, a lot younger,” he said. “You’ve got some fast wide receivers. That’s one of the better offenses in the nation.
“I thought the defense did a pretty good job of holding their own. Some guys got better in front of a crowd; some guys didn’t do what they needed to do.”
Patterson got a chance to watch the defense while new co-defensive coordinators Chad Glasgow and DeMontie Cross handled the signals.
“It was a lot of fun for me, because it was the first time I hadn’t called defense in a scrimmage in forever,” Patterson said. “I got to get a different perspective.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760