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‘True brothers’ reflect on UB’s bowl bid, bond on and off the field

From left, James Patterson and Shaun Dolac in the UB Bulls' locker room.

Linebackers James Patterson (left) and Shaun Dolac have forged a special bond during their time as members of the UB Bulls football team. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published December 15, 2022


One of the many storylines of the 2022 UB football season that earned the Bulls their fourth bowl bid in five years was the play of linebackers James Patterson and Shaun Dolac.

Patterson, a fifth-year senior from Glendale, Maryland, was a second-team All-MAC selection. Dolac, a junior from West Seneca who set the single-season program record for solo tackles this year, earned first-team honors from the conference during his first full year as a starter.

What fans may not know, though, is that during their time at UB the two have forged a special bond — watching film, rooming together on the road, hanging out off the field, growing together as friends and teammates.

“He’s like a true brother,” Patterson says.

The feeling is mutual. Dolac credits Patterson’s tutelage as one of the reasons for his transformation from walk-on to All-MAC.

“That’s just who James is,” Dolac says. “If somebody needs help, he’ll talk to them. If there’s a problem, he’ll fix it. That’s what he did with me — and we’ve grown to be like brothers.”

The two will play their final collegiate game together when the Bulls (6-6) face Georgia Southern and former Bulls quarterback Kyle Vantrease at noon EST on Dec. 27 in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. The game airs on ESPN.

UBNow sat down with the two linebackers to talk about their friendship, the season and their time at UB. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on the bowl bid and a tremendous season for you both. Shaun, how do you think James has helped with your development as a player?

Dolac: Ever since I got here, James has made life a lot easier. He’s helped me transition when I came here in 2020 during the COVID year. He’s always been by my side, took me under his wing, so a lot of props to him. It’s just been an honor to play with him and to learn from him. I'm forever grateful to him — more than he’ll ever know.

James, what did you see in Shaun?

Patterson: I’ve seen in him a lot of qualities I had when I was a young player. Just eager to learn, eager to want to be better, eager to push everybody — just something about him that made him stand out. I think it was one of his first scrimmages and he was just making play after play and I could see it in his eyes that he wanted it from day one. I know there’s been some tough times for him, but he always puts his best foot forward. That’s something Dolac has always done.

Shaun, can you talk about going through some of those tough times on the field when you first joined the team?

Dolac: Well, like you said, I was a walk-on, so coming in here in 2020 I didn’t have a lot of eyes on me. I had to prove myself. I had to prove to the coaches that I could do this — I could play at the Division I level. And James always told me, “Hey you can do this. I know you can do this.”

Then our coach left, so I had to prove myself again to a new staff. At that point I was like, “Oh, man, what do I do now?” James just said, “Stay the course.” So, I just decided to keep working and that’s when I finally got the scholarship.

That’s inspiring. What did you learn from that?

Dolac: You know, just a lot of times you’re going to fail during the process and you have to stay the course. You’ve got to overcome those failures, overcome the obstacles that come your way. Sometimes it’s not about when you get knocked down, you just gotta make sure you get back up — every time. You can’t stay down because when you stay down then you lose. You have to have the mentality to just keep getting up.

James, did you learn anything from Shaun?

Patterson: Dolac pushes me so much. You see him making all these plays and I’m like ‘Alright, I gotta step up.’

There are so many players in the NCAA transfer portal these days. Why did you choose to stay at UB?

Dolac: Definitely been a great experience to just play in my hometown. I’ve got all the family support right here, they come out to my games, they support me all the time. The experiences I’ve had here with my teammates, with my coaches, it’s been unbelievable — and a blessing.

Patterson: My time here at UB has been amazing. Nothing less than a wonderful time. UB is my second home. I truly love Buffalo and this program. Nowadays, with the transfer portal and stuff like that, people ask “Why is Buffalo so important to you?” It’s changed my life.

What’s your prediction for the bowl game?

Patterson: I just think through this bowl game we get to show our personality as a team to the whole nation and we get to go against a good Georgia Southern team, against our ex-quarterback. We can’t wait for that, as well. He’s going to be excited, we’re going to be excited, and it’s going to be a great game.