The basement of Janine and Leroy Patterson’s home in Glenn Dale, Md., is a shrine to Washington football. A Fathead cutout of Brian Orakpo adorns one wall and a burgundy No. 17 Doug Williams jersey another. There is a Joe Theismann poster, a Chris Cooley poster, a towel with Sean Taylor’s No. 21, a Washington street sign and a Washington license plate, and there are foam fingers, sketches of Joe Gibbs and nearly enough burgundy and gold hats and helmets to dress a full team.

There is also a photo of one of the Pattersons’ sons, Jaret, then a young boy, standing behind an oversize mannequin with a No. 11 Washington jersey during a fan appreciation event at training camp.

Born in 1999, Jaret Patterson grew up a Washington die-hard well after the team’s era of dominance. He would attend games with his family at FedEx Field, when the December cold numbed their fingers and the opposing fans seemed to outnumber their own, and insist they stay from warm-ups to the final whistle.

“We’d be getting our butts kicked by two or three touchdowns, but he wanted to stay,” said Janine Patterson, the family’s biggest Washington football loyalist. “I’d be like, ‘Come on, they’re not coming back.’ But he made me stay. He’s always been an avid fan.”

On Friday, the Pattersons returned to watch a practice at FedEx Field, just eight miles south of their home, and sat in Section 301 above the 50-yard line. But this time, they were much more than fans. In May, Jaret Patterson signed with the Washington Football Team as an undrafted free agent — the team’s only one this year — and he is now competing for one of the 53 spots on the team’s initial roster. That competition enters a new phase Thursday with Washington’s preseason opener at the New England Patriots.

“It’s just surreal,” Janine Patterson said that night as she watched her son warm up.

At only 5-foot-7 and as the sixth running back on Washington’s first unofficial depth chart, Patterson would seem to be facing long odds to make the roster. But at every level of his football career — from youth leagues to high school to college and now the NFL — Patterson has proved his doubters wrong and obliterated expectations with jaw-dropping plays and record-setting numbers.

Those who know him best are convinced Patterson is primed for another “show them” moment in Washington.

“Yeah, I do,” Leroy Patterson said. “Because that’s been his story the whole time.”

‘Don’t worry. I got this.’

Ask about Jaret Patterson, and the same question will inevitably come up: Have you seen the Riverdale game?

It was 2016, his senior season at Pallotti High in Laurel, Md., and Patterson was playing on both sides of the ball, at safety and running back. Riverdale Baptist, which featured future Minnesota Vikings first-round offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, led, 21-0, in the first quarter, prompting Pallotti Coach Ian Thomas and assistant Justin Winters to confer on the sideline.

“We were trying to figure out what we had to do to not get our a — beat, basically,” Winters said. “Jaret came to the sideline and interrupted our conversation and said: ‘Don’t worry; I got this. We’re going to win.’ ”

Patterson totaled 558 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 282 yards and two scores, had four catches for 54 yards and returned two kickoffs for 124 yards, one of which was a 95-yard touchdown. On defense, he had nine tackles, a 98-yard pick-six and, after asking his coaches to let him play defensive end, two sacks — including a strip-sack with a fumble recovery to seal Pallotti’s 55-48 overtime victory.

“And he cramped up in the third quarter, ate a burger on the sideline, went back in and ran for 200 more yards,” Winters said.

It was far from his only memorable feat in high school. On the first drive of Pallotti’s season opener in 2014, Patterson shed seven tackles to weave his way into the end zone. Blocking for him were his twin brother, James, at fullback and friend and future Washington teammate Chase Young at tight end; Young cracked back on a linebacker to clear a running lane.

The three keyed a shift at Pallotti, which was far from a powerhouse before their arrival. They started on varsity as freshmen, played both ways and instilled a work ethic that Thomas and Winters said was missing in the team. Though Young transferred to DeMatha after two years, he and the Pattersons helped Pallotti win a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association conference championship in their second season together. In 2016, the Patterson boys led the way to a second.

“Those guys stuck together, and they made sure that they influenced everyone else in the school,” said Thomas, who is now Young’s manager. “[Jaret] would never lose a rep. He just would never lose a rep. That wasn’t an option for him.”

Suffering in silence

Jaret and James, who are fraternal twins, played their first season of organized football when they were 7. Even though their local rec team won the championship, Jaret was upset. His brother had played a lot, but he hadn’t.

So Janine Patterson, a former Baltimore City Schools principal, pulled her son aside and told him he “wasn’t good enough yet.”

“I knew that he was upset by the fact that he had the cleanest uniform the whole season,” she recalled. “I wanted him to understand that if you want to be great, you have to put in the work.”

Jaret Patterson says his mind-set changed after that, with a personal promise to never be outworked. But his work ethic and production didn’t change the minds of doubters. While James, a 6-foot linebacker, got scholarship offers from major college programs, Jaret struggled to get the same attention. When they visited Eastern Michigan, the school didn’t even have a name tag for Jaret. It offered James a scholarship, while Jaret cried in the bathroom.

“Schools started recognizing James, and regardless of what Jaret did on the field, it was like they looked at his size and were turned off,” Janine said. “Jaret kind of suffered in silence because he loves his brother. They have a tight bond, and he didn’t want it to be about him. He wanted James to enjoy his success. But James couldn’t enjoy his success because he worried about his brother.”

They were a package deal, having made a pact when they were younger to stick together. They wore matching clothes, shared the same hobbies and were best friends and each other’s biggest critics. But the top programs didn’t want both.

Finally, when the University at Buffalo offered scholarships to both brothers, there was a complication: The program asked Jaret to grayshirt, meaning he couldn’t join the school and team for the fall semester of his freshman year. So James told Buffalo that if Jaret had to grayshirt, he would, too, and for six months the twins stayed in Maryland to train for the college level and help coach at Pallotti.

“It was a no-brainer because this is something we envisioned, something we worked so hard for, so why would I leave and start it without him?” James said. “I thought it would be unfair, and when we came out at the same time, we just killed it.”

In 2018, Jaret was the first freshman in Buffalo history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and his brother ranked second on the team in tackles.

In 2019, Jaret broke the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,799 yards to go with 19 rushing touchdowns.

In 2020, a season shortened to six games because of the pandemic, Jaret led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 178.7 rushing yards per game and tied an FBS record with eight rushing touchdowns in a win over Kent State. He and James were voted to the all-Mid-American Conference first team.

And in their three years together, the Patterson twins helped lead Buffalo to three bowl games (the school played in only two previously), two MAC East titles and its first appearance in the Associated Press top 25 poll.

Jaret declared for the NFL draft in December. It was James who encouraged him to leave a year early.

“Each year he got better and better, and I just told him, ‘It’s okay if you and I are on different paths,’ ” James recalled. “ ‘You have a real shot at living out our dream and playing in the NFL and proving yourself right. You can be someone at your stature and play at a high level and be one of the best.’ ”

‘I’ve always been the underdog’

Patterson was projected to be a late-round pick, but when the draft ended without his name being called, old frustrations surfaced.

“People around me were upset because they knew how much I put into it,” he said. “But I just told them: ‘I’ve been here before. I’ve been counted out. I’ve been overlooked. I’ve always been the underdog. So it’s nothing new.’ It was kind of like deja vu.”

Washington was one of the first teams to try to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Young told Patterson he vouched for him to Coach Ron Rivera.

“I just feel like it’s a great setup for me,” Patterson said. “Coach Rivera, he’s a big culture guy. He wants guys that want to be there. He fits what I stand for.”

Rivera has said Patterson reminds him of Darren Sproles — the 5-6 running back who played 15 NFL seasons and earned three Pro Bowl nods — and noted Patterson’s retention of information during training camp. Running backs coach Randy Jordan has praised Patterson for his vision behind the line of scrimmage and ability to stay upright after getting hit.

“The other thing is, when I watch him on tape, his ability to make his teammates better,” Jordan said. “[He makes] the offensive line better because he’s able to make runs and see things before they even happen.”

Still, making Washington’s roster will not be easy. In addition to overcoming his size and athletic limitations (his 4.58-second 40-yard dash and 30-inch vertical jump at his pro day are considered subpar), Patterson will have to prove he can pass-block and catch passes out of the backfield — something he did little of at Buffalo. Antonio Gibson has a hold on the starting job after impressing as a rookie, J.D. McKissic so far has kept his spot as the No. 2 back, and Peyton Barber remains third on the unofficial depth chart.

If Patterson doesn’t make the final 53, he could be a candidate for the practice squad. But then again, overcoming challenges isn’t new to him. Patterson has been here before.

“That’s just his story,” Winters said. “If he has a chance, he’s going to make the most of that chance every time. That’s him.”