He was a star at Mission Prep and walk-on at Cal. Now he’s close to making an NFL roster

Mission Prep grad Patrick Laird prepares for last game as star Cal Bears running back

Mission Prep graduate Patrick Laird plays his last football game for Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 26. He went from a former walk-on to earning a scholarship to now staring as the Bears’ top running back.
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Mission Prep graduate Patrick Laird plays his last football game for Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 26. He went from a former walk-on to earning a scholarship to now staring as the Bears’ top running back.

Patrick Laird has exceeded expectations at every step of his football career.

He turned heads at tiny Mission Prep to rank as one of California’s top running backs his senior year. As a walk-on at Cal, he not only eventually landed a scholarship but also became one of the Golden Bears’ top offensive weapons.

Now, the he’s trying to make his mark at the NFL level — and he’ll soon find out if he’ll get his shot on the biggest stage of them all.

The undrafted running back has emerged as the leading preseason rusher for the Miami Dolphins. He expects to find out Saturday if he makes the Dolphins’ 53-man roster after the team’s last preseason game against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.

“It has been an awesome experience,” Laird told The Tribune in a phone conversation. “It has been awesome and a dream come true.”

Laird, a 6-foot, 205-pound back known for his versatility, has been solid in all three of Miami’s preseason games.

He’s averaged 5.3 yards per carry with a team leading 101 yards (7th in the NFL), tallying both a running and receiving touchdown.

Multiple Florida and NFL media outlets have Laird on the bubble of making the team.

A Miami Herald article noted: “It’s not surprising to see why undrafted running back Patrick Laird was ahead of seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin in the depth chart released last week... Laird has a burst that was evident in his 19 yard run Thursday.”

And a Palm Beach Post story stated: “While most eyes have been on the starting running back battle between Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, Laird has shined in practice, and carried success into the games.”

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Miami Dolphins running back Patrick Laird during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Wilfredo Lee AP

Success at every level

Laird rushed for 3,117 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns his senior season year at Mission Prep, ranking third in the state in 2013, according to

He walked on at Cal Berkeley, but he didn’t see much playing time until his junior year.

Once the redshirt got his opportunity, rushing for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017, adding a touchdown catch. Laird came back as a senior and posted 961 yards rushing with nine total touchdowns (five rushing and four receiving).

Coming from a small school, with limited exposure, the NFL felt like a long shot. He went undrafted this spring, but Dolphins took a chance on him as a free-agent signing.

“For me, it has always been about short-term goals,” Laird said. “As a freshman at Cal, I was just trying to get playing time and see how many special teams opportunities I could get. Then as I progressed later in college, and got more chances at running back, I started to realize that maybe the NFL was something I could pursue.”

Laird said the mental part of the game in the NFL has been the biggest challenge, with a complex set of plays and schemes to learn. And the talent level of players is displayed at every position.

“It’s a full-time job, and we spend every day just thinking about football, unlike when you’re a student athlete,” Laird said. “You’re learning the schemes and watching tape. It’s a lot more complex. As far as speed and strength, physically everyone you go against is a good player. The defensive lineman are huge, and the linebackers are all big.”

But Laird also experienced the feeling that he belongs, which started in training camp when he made a few plays against teammates.

On a 5-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Laird barreled through the linebacker to bowl his way into the end zone. Laird also has shown bursts of speed in runs, his longest of 22 yards coming against Tampa Bay in the third week.

Miami Dolphins running back Patrick Laird (42) reacts after scoring a touchdown as Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Quenton Meeks (24) and wide receiver Isaiah Ford (84) look on during the second half of an NFL football preseason game Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky AP

‘Live in the present and stay focused’

Laird said he’s enjoyed spending time with other players on the team even though it’s a highly competitive environment.

“Guys are fighting for jobs,” Laird said. “But I think the culture of this team is a collaborative, competitive environment. We’re all competing, but we have kind of become friends and we can joke around with each other.”

He said the coaches also are “blowing me away” with their knowledge of the game and ability to bring young players into the fold, starting with head coach Brian Flores.

Laird said he’s had a chance to talk with former Mission Prep coaches Chad Henry and Rich Seubert since he joined the Dolphins, as well former teammates and competitors. Seubert was an offensive lineman who played with the New York Giants.

“Chad texted me the other day telling me how happy he was to see me at this level,” Laird said. “I’ve heard from a lot of people I played against growing up on social media. I haven’t talked to a lot of those guys since high school.”

Laird said he’s not distracted about his job status, focusing primarily on what he needs to do against New Orleans on Thursday.

“My main focus is to live in the present and stay focused,” Laird said. “I’m optimistic about being a Miami Dolphin and working to do whatever I need to help the team.”

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Mission Prep’s running back Patrick Laird #23 is tackled as he carries the football against Salesian High School during the first half of the CIF-SS Northeast Division Championship between Mission Prep High School and Salesian High School at Salesian High School on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calif. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon Patrick T. Fallon Patrick T. Fallon

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.