Patrick Queen did not start the first game of his junior season at LSU … or the second … or the third.
He’d earned his spurs by filling in for All-American Devin White the previous year, and with an NFL future at stake, the young linebacker could have seethed on the sidelines. Instead, calling on resilience honed by a tough-love upbringing, he asked LSU head coach Ed Orgeron how he might improve.
“Just a lot of prayers, a lot of patience and self-determination to get back on the field,” Queen said, recalling his outlook. “But every opportunity I got, I took full advantage of and tried to make the best of my opportunity.”
Queen made himself essential to the Tigers as they piled up victory after victory. By the time LSU played Clemson for a national championship, he was the best player on defense, racking up eight tackles, 2 ½ for loss, in the biggest game of the season. On Thursday, the Ravens drafted the 20-year-old in the first round, hoping he could shoulder the Pro Bowl legacy left by previous middle linebackers Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley.
It’s unusual to say the least for a prospect to rise so far, so fast. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow gobbled up most of the attention by transforming himself from late-round prospect to No. 1 overall pick during one glorious season on the bayou. But Queen pulled off a similar ascent on the other side of the ball.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said he’s thrilled to get a player who was not anointed the first day he set foot on a college campus.
“He’s not an entitled guy,” DeCosta said. “This is a guy that didn’t start for most of his career at LSU. And so, I think this transition to the NFL, that’s going to help him … because it’s a difference coming up to this level of football, with really good players at every single position. It could be a challenge for some guys, and I think Patrick has kind of already undergone that challenge in some respects.”
Queen was so excited to land with the Ravens that he could not sleep Thursday night, said his parents, Dwayne and Mary Sue. He’s normally a soft-spoken homebody, content to play video games in his room between meals, but he came out jabbering again Friday morning.
“I think he’s ready to grow and expand,” his mother said. “I have not seen him so happy. He does not show emotions too much.”
Queen’s hard road at LSU fit his life story. Growing up in Ventress, Louisiana, he was an athlete forged by criticism and toil more than praise and glory. He has his father to thank for that.
Even after his best games at Livonia High School, Queen knew he’d hear a list of things he could have done better before any congratulations.
“With my dad, it was tough love,” he said. “At the time, it was always keep training, keep training, keep training, just tough love from the get-go.”
“Patrick was great in high school, great since he started playing,” his father said. “But I didn’t ever want him to get complacent.”
Dwayne Queen was once a Louisiana prep standout with dreams of starting at cornerback for LSU and reaching the NFL. In reality, he played for Nicholls State, the school that later produced Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. He had to set his football ambitions aside and get a steady job when his girlfriend at the time became pregnant.
But those visions lived on in his heart and mind, so fervently that when a doctor handed over his newborn son in the delivery room, he declared that little Patrick Queen would play football for LSU.
The Queens already regarded Patrick as a miracle. For at least three years, they’d struggled and prayed to have a baby. So perhaps Dwayne was pushing his luck by assigning the infant a grand destiny.
“Not being a football person, I just looked at him like, ‘What are you doing?’” Mary Sue recalled, laughing.
But Dwayne did not intend to leave the dream to chance. He taught Patrick to dribble a basketball with both hands at age 5 and to hit baseballs off a tee in the backyard at age 8. “I told him, ‘If you want to play, you’re going to go through the training and be the best out there,’” he remembered.
The really onerous drills came a few years later. Neighbors in the Queens’ quiet, country community stared bemusedly as Dwayne asked his son to pull a weighted sled up and down a levy along the nearby Mississippi River.
At times, Mary Sue intervened. “I’d get the phone calls: ‘Hey, Dwayne is going to kill that kid,’” she said. “Sometimes I’d look out and say, ‘Oh, no way!’”
But the work paid off. Queen was not just bigger and faster than most of his classmates; he played with more skill and poise. He made the varsity baseball team at Livonia as an eighth grader (he would eventually become the leadoff hitter and draw college recruiting interest) and the varsity football team as a ninth grader.
In high school, he made his biggest splash as a power-running tailback who piled up 1,000-yard seasons. But LSU coaches envisioned him following the same path as White, who’d converted from high school running back to All-American linebacker. White, who plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, became a campus mentor to Queen.
Queen busted out as a sophomore when he filled in for White (who was suspended half a game for a targeting penalty) against mighty Alabama. He made nine tackles, including two for loss, against the Crimson Tide and started three more games down the stretch.
He assumed he’d inherit White’s job in 2019. Instead, Orgeron told him he’d battle two other players for a starting spot. That competition did not go Queen’s way at first, but he would not be held down.
“He was very frustrated,” Mary Sue Queen said. “So we took him back to, ‘Just fight. Fight for what you think is yours. Go in and talk to your coaches to see what it is you need to get better at. Continue to pray and trust God.’”
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Their son embraced the call to self-improvement.
“Every time we put him in there, he made plays,” Orgeron said on a conference call earlier this week. “He kept on improving, one game at a time. At the end, he became one heck of a football player. He's a high-character kid.”
Coaches and family members describe Queen as humble, shy even. But his hard-won faith in himself was apparent early Friday morning as he spoke to Baltimore media members for the first time.
He talked about the high bar set by Lewis in Baltimore but added, “I feel like I’m more mobile than he was.”
When he was asked about the other top inside linebacker in the draft class, Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma, he wished him well but said “I feel like I was the better linebacker, still.”
He saved his most emphatic words for critics who’ve picked at him for being “undersized” at 6 feet, 232 pounds.
“I’m not going to lie to you man, I’m so tired of hearing that,” Queen said. “I heard it all the way through college. It didn’t matter. I played perfectly fine. Coming into the league, I’m going to be strong, I’m going to be fast, and I’m going to be smart and just try to bring that mentality I had in college into the NFL and turn it up a lot more. I feel like I haven’t even reached my full potential yet, so the sky is the limit.”