Returning running back Malont’a Patterson was one of Dunbar’s most productive playmakers last fall, scoring 11 touchdowns. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

At 5 foot 8 and about 160 pounds, Dunbar running back Malont’a Patterson has learned to make the most of his stature during his two years as the Crimson Tide’s running back. He is small and shifty, yet also understands how to exact leverage with a low-center-of-gravity when running. And he became one of the District’s best running backs a year ago, rushing for 876 yards on 122 carries, and scoring a team-high 11 touchdowns.

If anything, it’s Patterson’s take-nothing-for-granted approach that will rub off on the rest of Dunbar team this year. For the second straight season, the Crimson Tide is a migrant-program. The team practiced and played all of last season at Cardozo while the new building of the school was still under construction.

And although the new school will open its doors on Aug. 29, the athletic facilities are still a year away from fully housing the football team at the new location, so Dunbar opened its practice at a new home Thursday night at the now-defunct Spingarn High School in Northeast. That’s where it will have a locker room during the season, busing back and forth while continuing to play home games at Cardozo.

“Traveling and time management, it’s a factor,” Patterson said. “Even though it’s not our home, we’re going to treat it like our home. We’re going to come out here and work just like it was up at Dunbar.”

Dunbar finished 9-3 in 2012, winning the Turkey Bowl over Anacostia before making an appearance in the inaugural DCSAA title game against Friendship Collegiate. But it was forced to vacate the Turkey Bowl win after DCPS found in February that the program had used an ineligible player, and with the graduation of four-year starting quarterback Lamel Matthews, the Crimson Tide are back to square one in the newly reformed DCIAA. Still, Jerron Joe’s team returns plenty of talent to make another late season push.

Patterson returns, as does one of the city’s best receiving tandems in James Duff and Delonte Matthews, both of whom started to heat up on the recruiting scene earlier this summer. Matthews caught 32 balls for 646 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, while Duff chipped in 26 grabs for 391 yards and three scores.

Getting those players the football is still one of the camp’s question marks, and Joe is holding an open competition at quarterback between two juniors – Davon Matthews (Lamel and Delonte’s younger brother) and Chrisdieon Alston, a transfer from Ballou who threw for five touchdowns in limited time with the Knights as a freshman.

Delonte Matthews and Duff will both start at safety on a defense that is chalk full of returners – with senior notables that include returning linemen David Coates and Terry Talford, cornerback Andre Morris and linebacker Byron Ragland.

But on the opening days of fall camp, Joe is more concerned with achieving a sense of comfort for his nomadic team. Logistically, managing a team away from the facility puts wear and tear on the coaching staff, and like last year, the Crimson Tide will be forced to win consistently on the road. They will play all but three of their games on the road (the opener is at a quality McKinley Tech squad on Aug. 30), but even those three home games will be played at Cardozo, which Joe calls ‘playoff central.'”

“We’re going to get our feet wet throughout the year. It’s a bit overwhelming. You got to basically deal with the cards you’re dealt,” Joe said. “I look myself in the mirror, and I tell myself, I was placed here for a reason.”

Previously: Oakton | Lake Braddock | Briar Woods | Anacostia | H.D. Woodson