HANOVER COUNTY, Virginia – As high schools across the country host homecoming ceremonies and traditional football games this month, the Atlee High School Raiders are celebrating homecoming in a way that l school has never done before.
And for football player Izaiah Patterson, the whole season has been a special kind of unique.
Patterson had bounced back into the home system for a while.
Earlier this year, he was paired with the Riley family in Mechanicsville.
The Rileys felt an immediate connection with the child they felt chosen to raise.
“It’s in the hands of God,” Chris Riley said. “God is going to put the children that he knows can be with us, with us.”
“This is a new step for you to take,” Patterson said of joining the Riley family. “It doesn’t matter if you are feeling nervous, you just have to persevere. You won’t get anywhere if you give up early on.”
Patterson had played soccer at the recreational league level until he was 12, but he never put down roots long enough to keep up.
That changed when he arrived at the Rileys.
“[We asked] If we could make it happen, would you like to play football in high school? He said it was like a dream, “recalls Becki Riley.
Atlee head coach Matt Gray then laid out his expectations from day one.
“You have an opportunity, but you’re going to have to do it our way,” Gray told Patterson. “I just need you to listen to me and do what we ask you to do. His answer was ‘Yes, sir.'”
Patterson played well enough to be named the Raiders starting linebacker. He also held to a new standard, fully supported by his new family at home and on the football field.
“We have some seniors who wrapped their arms around this guy and said to be a part of it,” said coach Gray.
“They accepted him as part of the family,” added Chris Riley. “They hold him responsible for being within the family norm.”
“The players are like brothers to me. They are like family,” said Patterson. “They are there when I need them, I can talk to them about things and the coaches are a very good staff. They make me want to do better.”
As the Raiders prepare for Homecoming, they’re doing something they’ve never done before.
Players will have their name on the back of their jersey for a single match.
Izaiah Patterson had a decision to make and although his adoption won’t be official until later this year, he chose to have Riley’s name sewn to the back of his shirt.
“I chose to put Riley in because they’re like family,” he said. “In the future, that will be my name anyway.”
The Rileys called Patterson’s move “the best thing ever.”
“It’s more important than wins and losses,” said coach Gray. “It’s more about having an impact on people.”
It is a modest but meaningful way for Patterson to express his gratitude and appreciation.
The Rileys said ‘catastrophic’ was not a strong enough word to describe the state of foster care for teens right now, but for a young man from Hanover County, things finally seem to be working out .
“Most of the things I do now are because I want to improve and they make me want to do it,” Patterson said.
“I’m getting ready for bed, it’s almost midnight. My phone rings, and it’s him and the text says thank you for giving me the opportunity to do something I love. I appreciate you.” , said Coach Gray.
If you would like to learn more about the foster care program, contact your local Department of Social Services office or contact Virginia’s Kids Belong. here.