James Patterson and Kadofi Wright were destined to become a premier linebacker duo long before they ever met.
Both from the Washington metropolitan area — Patterson from Maryland and Wright from Virginia — the two were coached by UB football alumni Justin Winters and Willie Moseley in high school.
Winters, who coached Patterson at Saint Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, MD, was teammates at UB with Moseley, who coached Wright at Henrico High School in Richmond, VA, from 2008 to 2010.
Winters and Moseley blazed a path at UB and beyond, and Wright and Patterson have since followed in their footsteps.
Patterson, an even-keeled freshman who arrived at UB with his brother, Jaret, in fall 2018, roomed with Wright, an extroverted prankster who was entering his sophomore season that training camp.
Constantly ribbing teammates and cracking jokes in practice, Wright quickly earned the reputation as one of the most exuberant personalities on the Bulls’ roster.
He made an interesting first impression on Patterson, who described the Richmond native as “mature, but very silly.”
On the other hand, Wright immediately noticed the seriousness in Patterson’s approach to the game.
A no-nonsense player with a calm intensity and aura that follows him, Patterson isn’t always in the mood for jokes.
The pair had unique first impressions of each other.
“When I first met him I could tell he was a different breed in the way he worked on and off the field,” Wright said of Patterson. “Being in class, sprinting off the field and doing all the extra work behind the scenes. I knew he was going to be a special player.”
The dynamic between the two became more evident throughout the 2018 season, and by 2019, Patterson and Wright’s bond was clear not just off the field, but on it as well.
Patterson recorded 40 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception during the 2019 season while Wright racked up 31 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries en route to All-MAC second-team honors.
That momentum carried into the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, when Patterson was a first-team All-MAC selection and recorded a team-high 63 tackles in seven games. Wright showcased his skills in the open field with seven pass breakups, which were also good for first on the team.
Their personalities are different, and so are their play styles.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joe Cauthen says the duo’s differences are “obvious on film,” with Patterson excelling at tackling and Wright showing out in pass coverage.
“They’re different sizes. Where Kadofi brings really good athletic ability, James brings physical toughness,” Cauthen said. “That’s not to say that James is not a good athlete, they’re just different in that aspect of the game.”
Wright also understands the pair’s stylistic differences. But instead of taking an analytical approach, he prefers to address it in terms of playful, back-handed compliments to his contemporary.
“James is a very sturdy guy when it comes to tackling,” Wright said. “I get the job done, but I give it to him. James can hit harder than me. But when it comes to the open field, James has got a little bit of [a] slow step. So I like to let James do all of the blitzing and I can cover the running backs.”
While different, Patterson and Wright have learned to lean on one another, something that’s well on display in 2021.
The two led the team in tackles (Patterson with 50 and Wright with 28) and showcased their full potential as complementary playmakers in Week 4’s 35-34 win over Old Dominion. Patterson recorded eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception while Wright racked up 11 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup against the Monarchs.
Patterson and Wright trust each other to make plays in key situations, and that trust is helping them lead UB’s defense.
“If he sees something he’ll tell me, and if I see something I’ll tell him,” Patterson said. “It’s just that relationship we’ve developed over the years. It took time, but now, if he sees something, I just know what to do immediately without even saying anything sometimes.”
Wright says that trust factor is crucial for him as a playmaker.
“It’s definitely a blessing because trust is a big key, especially on defense because you’re trusting 10 other players to do their job at the same time,” Wright said. “So having James beside me is a benefit because I know for a fact he’s gonna do his job and when the play comes to me I’m always gonna be there to make it.”
The two describe themselves as “brothers” on- and off-the-field, but there’s an added layer to that statement.
After Patterson and Wright suffered “stingers” — nerve injuries of the neck and shoulder — Wright convinced Patterson to wear a protective neck roll, which inspired him to call the duo the “neck roll brothers.”
A piece of equipment typically associated with grit and tenacity during the ’80s and ’90s, neck rolls decreased in popularity over the years and have taken on a personality of their own.
They are often used to symbolize the toughest players on the team but also provide players with a much-needed added cushion to their neck and shoulder areas.
Patterson was originally skeptical of the idea but eventually gave in.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m never gonna wear that,’ and then he put the neck roll curse on me,” Patterson said. “My 2019 year I hurt my neck and I started wearing it. He was like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna be neck roll brothers!’ Every time you ask Dof [Kadofi], he’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re the neck roll brothers!’”
Wright, never one to shy away from the camera, is happy to take credit for being the “trendsetter” in the linebacking corps.
“I definitely caught some stingers back in the day, but when it comes to swag, everybody looks up to me,” Wright said. “When I started looking crazy on the field everybody wanted to follow the trend.”
Now three years into their relationship, Wright and Patterson know what it takes to not only coexist but thrive in each other’s presence.
They go about things differently on- and off-the-field, and that’s a good thing. Wright, in particular, embraces their unusual bond.
“It’s definitely a balance. I like to say that he’s the good angel and I’m the bad devil on your shoulder,” Wright said. “We have fun with it, he seems serious, but at the same time, you can’t be serious all the time. I like to bring all the jokes and stuff to the room.”
Their friendship highlights one of the most interesting dynamics on the team. Even though the two are polar opposites in both personality and play style, they have developed an inseparable bond by playing alongside each other for three seasons.
“They understand each other. James understands Kadofi a lot more than I do, so I have to go to James to ask him what he’s thinking,” Cauthen said with a laugh. “But they’re both fine young men.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.