SANTA CLARA The marquee football programs at the big universities stumble over themselves to secure commitments from hotshot high school players across the country.
Quinton Patton wasn't on their list. In fact, he wasn't on anyone's list.
The first stop on the wide receiver's path to the NFL was Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, and even the Red Ravens needed plenty of convincing.
After all, Patton played at a small high school in La Vergne, Tenn. He wasn't particularly big or fast, and his grades weren't that good. The one trait he had going for himself persistence.
"He kept calling; he kept emailing," said Darian Dulin, who was then Coffeyville's coach. "His mother emailed. He practically recruited himself."
Finally, Dulin gave in. Patton was the last player he signed in 2008.
Patton's newest coach, Jim Harbaugh, got a taste of that tenacity last week.
Drafted in the fourth round on April 27, Patton couldn't wait to start practicing with his new squad. He bought a plane ticket from Nashville, Tenn., to San Francisco, and when he landed at the airport on Monday, he rented a car.
Patton was halfway down Highway 101 when he called the 49ers to tell them he was minutes away. It wasn't welcome news.
Draft picks have a 24-hour window to visit their new team, per the new collective bargaining agreement, but they are not allowed at the facility beyond that. If Patton had arrived in Santa Clara, he might have forfeited his chance to participate in the team's rookie minicamp that begins Friday.
Harbaugh talked about the phone conversation and the mini panic it set off at team headquarters on KNBR radio last week.
"We had to go, 'Where? Which airport did you fly into? You're in a rental car driving here?' " Harbaugh said. " 'Yeah, coach, I'm 20 minutes away.' "
Harbaugh had to tell Patton to turn around and fly back to Tennessee. But the 49ers' coach said he loved the rookie's eagerness.
"The fact that he would buy his own ticket and fly out here, to me, just speaks volumes about him. I mean, to be honest with you, he reminds me of me," he said. "That's something I would've done. I love it. I can't wait. It's probably the best money he's ever spent even though he had to fly out here and fly back home."
Patton's former coaches chuckled when that story was relayed to them.
Dulin, for example, said Patton was merely "mediocre" when he first arrived at Coffeyville and was redshirted in 2008. To stick around for the 2009 season, Dulin told Patton, he needed to offer more to the team.
So Patton said he'd also play defensive back. And he'd teach himself to punt, something he had never done.
Two years later, he was a second-team all-conference punter. In an October 2010 game against Independence Community College, he lined up at wide receiver, safety, punter and kick returner, and he ended up playing nearly every snap of the contest. The player no one wanted was voted Coffeyville's MVP at the end of the season.
Said Dulin: "He made himself into a guy we couldn't play without."
A year later, he landed at Louisiana Tech with coach Sonny Dykes, who in December was hired to run Cal's football program.
Dykes had recruited another 49ers wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, to Texas Tech while coaching the receivers for that school. The common element, Dykes said, is that both truly love football and sometimes had to be ordered off the practice field.
"We told him that many times," said Dykes of Patton, who constantly was trying to perfect his route running. " 'We got our work done today, Quinton. Let's recharge our batteries and go back to work tomorrow.' "
Dykes said he has come across plenty of players more talented than Patton. But no one has outworked him, and no one has had his pluck. It's why he caught 183 passes for 24 touchdowns in two seasons at Louisiana Tech and already has caught Harbaugh's eye in the NFL.
"Quinton just wanted to prove himself," Dykes said. "Football wasn't one of those things that had been laid out for him. He had to work at it."