Navy Quarterback Dobbs Is Hail Fellow Well Met

Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, right, with offensive lineman Mike Von Bargen.
Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, right, with offensive lineman Mike Von Bargen. "He's a lovable guy," safety Emmett Merchant said of Dobbs. (By Rob Carr -- Associated Press)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ricky Dobbs's teammates on the Navy football team know that if they are going to go somewhere or do something with the affable sophomore quarterback, then they better factor in some extra time.

"It takes you an hour to get places when you're with Ricky," said sophomore safety Emmett Merchant, one of Dobbs's closest friends. "Because if he's not stopping to say something to somebody, then somebody is stopping him to say something. Everybody knows him. He's a lovable guy."

That much was true even before Dobbs turned in three star-making performances in relief against Southern Methodist, Temple and Notre Dame, three games that were played in front of the entire brigade. His outgoing, infectious personality is often the first thing that teammates mention when asked about Dobbs, and in a way, it helps explain what he has done over the past month, as he has gone from third-string quarterback to tonight's starter at Northern Illinois.

Dobbs is replacing Jarod Bryant, a well-liked senior and the team's offensive captain. (Senior Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, a three-year starter, is out because of an injured hamstring.) He still makes "the kind of little mistakes that can beat you," according to offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper.

But as Dobbs showed while rushing for 224 yards and scoring four touchdowns against SMU, while leading the Midshipmen (6-4) back from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit in an overtime win against Temple, and then nearly pulling off another comeback against Notre Dame, he just makes things happen.

"He has the 'It' factor," said Joby Boydstone, who coached Dobbs in both football and basketball in high school. "You got guys who make plays, but Ricky's a guy who can make plays when there are no plays to be made. . . . He has an air of confidence where no matter what the situation is, it's 'Get on my back and I'll carry you.' But he doesn't have to say it."

Dobbs was an athletic standout at Douglas County (Ga.) High. He was a three-year starter at quarterback, a threat to run and throw, and was a three-year starter at point guard, a top three-point shooter and defender. As a senior, he led the football team to a come-from-behind upset of the defending state champion in the playoffs, and he helped take the basketball team to the Class AAA state championship game.

"I'm telling you, he was a superstar," said James Fahrney, who coached and taught Dobbs in middle and high school. "And it wasn't just because of football. It was more so because of his personality."

Dobbs says that he gets his smile from his mother, Barbara Cobb, and his outgoing personality from his uncle, Thomas Cobb, who helped raised him. He was on a first-name basis with so many people in his hometown that Fahrney used to call him "the mayor of Douglasville." At the high school, he was homecoming king and prom king. (At Navy, he's running for vice president of his class, and he vows to run for president of the United States in 2040, when he's 52.)

He estimates that he has 450 phone numbers stored in his cellphone, and not only does he keep in touch with his former coaches, he regularly calls the women who work in his high school's front office as well. Dobbs worked as an office aide; instead of spending his time filing, he made sure that students treated the secretaries with respect, and he gave them back rubs and neck massages. "They be so stressed over the kids," he said.

One of Dobbs's most memorable moments at Douglas County came in November 2005, when he led the Tigers to what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution referred to as "one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff history." Douglas County rallied from a 20-3 deficit against Warner Robins, one of the top-ranked teams in the state, and Dobbs threw the winning touchdown with just 32 seconds left. The 24-20 win was played before an overflow crowd of 4,200 and was broadcast on a regional cable channel.

"Even as big as that game was, Ricky being in the limelight like that, it didn't affect his ability to lead," said Phil Williams, who was coaching Douglas County at the time. "He didn't get nervous or uptight about big games like that. He was better in those games than he was in other ones. I don't know if I'd say that he loved the limelight, but he was able to shine in those moments and not get frustrated or let his emotions overtake him."

As happy and upbeat as Dobbs always seems to be, he readily admits that there have been times when he has thought of leaving Navy. The year that he spent at the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) in Newport, R.I., was especially difficult; the weather was cold and the military environment was tough, and he considered heading to Georgia Tech to play wide receiver. When Coach Paul Johnson left Navy for Georgia Tech last December, Dobbs again thought about going to Atlanta, this time as a quarterback. Midshipmen are able to resign from the academy without penalty prior to their junior year.

"I definitely think about it, but I don't think I'll leave," Dobbs said. "I think one of the main things that keeps me here is all my friends. I don't want to leave them, because we've been through so much."

Dobbs is particularly close with three teammates who were with him at NAPS: Merchant, safety Wyatt Middleton and cornerback Kevin Edwards ("Bad boys for life," Dobbs said with a smile). He and sophomore wide receiver Mario Washington refer to each other as brothers.

In high school, Dobbs was known for having dozens of different handshakes that he used with his teammates and friends. Boydstone remembers the one that he and Dobbs used to do before their basketball games: "Old school, new school, fly to heaven, come back to earth, point like a gun and say, 'You're the one,' " Boydstone rattled off with a laugh.

At Navy, Dobbs has one with Kaheaku-Enhada and one with starting fullback Eric Kettani. He also has one for reserve junior lineman Osei Asante and another for Sander Gossard, a 25-year-old senior tackle. Dobbs and Middleton have their own special pregame routine.

"That right there tells you what type of person he is," Middleton said. "He can come in and loosen the atmosphere for everybody, so you can go out there and play and have fun. Because that's what it's about, having fun. Sometimes you get caught up in wanting to win too much, and you forget that. Players like Ricky come in there and remind you. Whether it's a handshake or a chest bump or whatever, it'll just remind you that it's fun."

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