A man of faith

QB Dobbs, seeker of divine guidance, answers Navy's prayers

November 12, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

Ricky Dobbs has spent his first two years at the Naval Academy doing more praying than playing.

The prayers have come for his mother, Barbara Cobb, who has been beset by serious medical problems after a history of drug abuse. They have come for his uncle, Lewis Cobb, who died last year of cancer.

Dobbs, a sophomore quarterback from Douglasville, Ga., has also prayed for himself - that his decision to play for Navy would turn out to be right. That first happened when Dobbs spent a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I.

Unsure about the postgraduation military commitment, unhappy about splitting time between quarterback and fullback, and just plain uncomfortable so far from home, Dobbs called Joe D'Allesandris, an assistant at Georgia Tech who had recruited him.

"He [D'Allesandris] told me to pray about it, to make sure that this was what I really wanted," Dobbs recalled. "My uncle [Thomas Cobb] came up to NAPS and we prayed, and I ended up staying."

His prayers have not always been answered during his two years in Annapolis, but in a season in which the Midshipmen have lost their two senior quarterbacks to injury, the player whose faith is as strong as his right arm has twice answered their prayers.

Going into Saturday's nationally televised game against Notre Dame (5-4) at M&T Bank Stadium, Dobbs has come off the bench to lead Navy (6-3) to successive victories.

Subbing for Jarod Bryant, Dobbs rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-7 rout of Southern Methodist. Subbing for Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada the next week, Dobbs led Navy back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Temple, 33-27, in overtime.

Though Bryant's sprained shoulder has healed enough for him to start against the Fighting Irish, Dobbs will likely play despite continuing to make mistakes in practice that at times frustrate Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo.

"I've got to stop watching Ricky at practice," Niumatalolo said jokingly this week. "He does some things in practice, you just scratch your head. The last two times he's gotten in, it didn't matter. Maybe Allen Iverson was right - practice is overrated."

Thomas Cobb, who coached Dobbs throughout his youth league career in their town on the outskirts of Atlanta, has seen a similar pattern in his nephew's practice habits.

"When he sees that he's the man, he'll definitely lead that team," Cobb said. "If he's following someone, he's going to sit back, trying to learn. He's not going to have that takeover mentality. I told him, 'You have to practice like you want to take a person's spot whether you're trying to take the person's spot or not.' "

Expected to take over next season after Bryant and Kaheaku-Enhada graduate, Dobbs has pushed up the timetable since leading the Midshipmen to a meaningless touchdown in the final minute of a 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh last month. Niumatalolo has seen Dobbs progress despite sometimes making the wrong reads in the triple option.

"He's a kid that sometimes when he makes mistakes, he's able to run through stuff, he's so strong," Niumatalolo said.

Dobbs credits his short time as a fullback at NAPS - the "B" back in Navy's terminology - with toughening him up at quarterback. NAPS was overloaded at quarterback, so Dobbs played four games at fullback because he was bigger and stronger than any other candidate.

"It helped me be more of a tough runner," said Dobbs, who stopped playing fullback after spraining his ankle. "Instead of trying to avoid people, I tried to overpower people. Playing 'B' back gave me that little toughness mentally."

John Oglesby, now the head coach at Douglas County, Dobbs' high school, said what Dobbs did two weeks ago against Temple was reminiscent of a first-round playoff game Dobbs' senior year, when he led Douglas County back from a 20-3 fourth-quarter deficit.

"He was a game-breaker," Oglesby said.

What Oglesby also remembers is the happy-go-lucky kid who roamed the hallways, befriending everyone in his path.

"What you see with Ricky is genuine in every way," Oglesby said. "We used to say, 'He's going to be the first black president of the United States.' I guess he got beat to the punch."

Said Dobbs, "They used to call me 'The Mayor of Douglasville' because I knew just about everybody."

But the smile often hid the hurt inside a boy who barely knew his father and went to live with his uncles because of his mother's drug problems.

Dobbs said his mother finally got off drugs before undergoing open-heart surgery two years ago. She had to be revived twice during the operation, Dobbs said, and recently had to be hospitalized because of pain in her chest and arms.

"When you talk about Ricky, it's hard to describe him," said Thomas Cobb, who raised Dobbs with his wife, Anita, since Dobbs was about 9. "He'll get down, but he won't show you that he's down. He'll give you that smile. I think his faith carries over into that, too."

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