SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- It's been quite a year for Patrick Laird, who recently finished his rookie season with the Miami Dolphins.
"It was an incredible experience, and in some ways, it exceeded my expectations," said the Mission Prep graduate. "It was an awesome experience, different from high school and college, but it's still football and it's still a lot of fun to play."
Laird's journey to the NFL began on the Central Coast, playing youth football in the Five Cities, and later, at Mission Prep.
Following his record-breaking All-American high school career, he rose from unknown walk-on at California to starting running back and team Offensive Most Valuable Player.
Despite the impressive college statistics he racked up playing in the Pac-12 Conference, Laird was not selected in the 2019 NFL Draft.
He later signed a free-agent contract with Miami.
"There were probably a lot of articles and tweets out there that said I wasn't going to make the team," said Laird. "You can't really worry about those sorts of things."
After a stellar preseason in training camp and during the team's four exhibition games, Laird earned a spot on the Dolphins' 53-man roster.
"When I got there, I figured out I was meant to be there, and from there you need to put your head down and work, and at the end, my goal was to make the roster and go from there. I did that. It was surreal and it was gratifying, but the next day, you're in practice and you have to start preparing for your first week, so there's not much time to reflect. You have to put your head down and continue to work and earn your spot, but it can be taken away at any time."
Once the season started, Laird earned playing time on special teams.
"It wasn't until about Week 11 or 12 that I started playing more on offense and actually my first play was a no-look pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick," said Laird. "He told me all throughout the week, I'm going to throw you the ball, it's going to be a no-look pass, and I said please don't do that, so he did it and I bobbled the ball a little bit, but I caught it and fell forward for a first down, so it was a pretty fun experience for my first play."
Over the course of the team's final five games, Laird was the feature back, rushing the football a minimum of eight carries each game.
In a Week 13 victory over Philadelphia, Laird scored his first career NFL touchdown. He followed it with a two-point conversion.
"It's a great feeling," Laird said. "It was awesome scoring a touchdown in an NFL game. I guess not many people get to do that, so I'm happy about it, but I definitely want to score more in the future."
Laird finished the season with 168 rushing yards and 204 receiving yards.
"There would be moments during the NFL season when I would be looking around when I see the Dolphins logo or when we played other teams, I would see their logo and you would kind of have to take a step back and appreciate how far you came, so there's a lot of moments like that throughout the season," said Laird. "It's a lot of work. There's a lot more work behind the scenes than people can imagine, so I'm enjoying right now. I'm loving it and I'm going to try and play as long as I can."
The Dolphins started the season winless over the first six games, but rallied over the final nine games, winning five times.
"We didn't win as many games that we wanted to, but we finished the season pretty strong, beat a couple of playoff teams," said Laird. "We were right there in a lot of them, so it's kind of about going forward now and building on the things that we did in the second half of the season."
The Arroyo Grande native is back home on the Central Coast, where he established himself as one of the greatest high school players in San Luis Obispo County history.
"I love the Central Coast," said Laird. "I love Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, everywhere on the Central Coast. It's going to have a special place in my heart."
He recently was honored at his alma mater, which retired his #23 football uniform number during a pregame ceremony before the varsity basketball team's cross-town rivalry game with San Luis Obispo.
"I'm incredibly honored to my jersey retired," said Laird. "My dad wore #23 at Cal Poly and my brother Kevin wore #23 here at Mission. When I came here and played football on JV my freshman year, I said, I'll just follow in my brother and dad and pick #23. I ended up falling in love with it and so I'm incredibly honored to have it retired."
After finishing up the season, Laird took some time off to rest and relax and recuperate from the demanding rigors of his first season in professional football.
However, he's already thinking ahead to his second season and keeping his place on the Dolphins roster.
"I've heard all the statistics about how long NFL players last, especially running backs, so I know all the stats, the averages, so I'm aware of that," said Laird. "It's really about showing up to work every day, being a professional, taking care of your body and those are the people they say, that last the longest, the good professionals, so I'm trying to be one. I'm still working. I'm working harder and I'll play until they tell me I can't play anymore, but I'm still loving the whole process and loving everything about it. When football is over, that will be a time, but really I'm just focused on getting ready for next season. That's all I'm worried about."
If everything goes according to plan, local fans will get a chance to see him up close and personal during the 2020 season.
The Dolphins are scheduled to play the San Francisco 49ers in Levi's Stadium. They'll also play in Las Vegas against the Raiders in new Allegiant Stadium.
"It's nice to be back on the Central Coast, but I am excited to get back out there to Miami and get back to work," said Laird.