Aching Ricky Dobbs Has Become a Pain for Navy's Opponents

Junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs leads Navy with 490 rushing yards and has scored 14 touchdowns, top in division I-A.
Junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs leads Navy with 490 rushing yards and has scored 14 touchdowns, top in division I-A. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

Last year against Southern Methodist, Navy's Ricky Dobbs ran for 224 yards -- the 12th-highest total in program history -- and scored four touchdowns to lead the Midshipmen to a 34-7 victory in a driving rainstorm. It was a breakout performance by a third-string quarterback who came into the game having taken a total of 19 snaps in his college career.

What Dobbs remembers most about that day, however, is how he felt afterward. "I was as sore as I've ever been," he said. "I had 42 carries. I didn't think I'd ever have that at quarterback."

Dobbs, now a junior and Navy's unquestioned starter at quarterback, is getting used to that sore feeling. He leads the Midshipmen (4-2) in rushing (490 yards) and has almost three times as many carries (141) as any other Navy player. He has scored 14 touchdowns, the most in division I-A, and needs eight more to break the school's season record of 21, which was set in 1917 by Bill Ingram.

"I didn't realize he had that many [touchdowns] until I saw the stats today," Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after Monday's practice. "It's him. He's a hard guy to tackle down there near the goal line. We don't have too many plays down there, and everybody knows what we like to run, and he's still been able to get into the end zone."

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Dobbs is the most physical runner the Midshipmen have had at quarterback since Brian Hampton, according to offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. Dobbs's ability to break tackles and fight for yards gives Navy a weapon in short-yardage situations.

Dobbs attributes his effectiveness to his determination. Backup quarterback Kriss Proctor says it's because "he's got some lead behind his butt." Junior cornerback Kevin Edwards says "it's because his legs are so powerful. He runs like a fullback."

Dobbs, in fact, traces the origin of his bruising running style to the four games he started at fullback while at the Naval Academy Preparatory School. He came to NAPS as a quarterback -- he had thrived in a pass-first offense at Douglas County High in Georgia -- but he found himself stuck in a backfield filled with former signal-callers. Some rotated at quarterback, others were shifted to slotback and Dobbs was moved to fullback.

He hated the position -- "You get hit every single play!" he said -- but it forced him to become a more aggressive runner. It also gave him a certain amount of empathy for the fullbacks who run hard on a drive, get tripped up shy of the goal line and then serve as a blocker for the quarterback running into the end zone.

"We're probably leading the country in guys falling down at the 1-yard line," Jasper said. "I always tell our guys in meetings -- I joke around with it, but at the same time it's true -- 'Hey guys, if you got a chance to score, you better score. Because if you don't score, you know what's coming next. We're giving the ball to the quarterback.' "

At the start of the second quarter of Saturday's 63-14 win over Rice, junior fullback Vince Murray strung together three consecutive strong runs; on the third one, he burst through the middle for a 17-yard gain (his longest of the season) and was tackled at the Owls' 2-yard line. Dobbs appeared to score on the next play, but the officials reviewed the call.

"Before they reversed it, I asked Coach: 'Can we run 22 to get the fullback? To reward him?' " Dobbs said. "I'm trying to get everybody involved; I don't want anybody to feel left out. And I definitely don't want people to think, 'Man, Ricky's hogging all those touchdowns.' "

(For the record, the officials overturned Dobbs's touchdown and ruled he was down at the 1-yard line. Dobbs -- not Murray -- ended up running the ball in from there.)

This Saturday, the Midshipmen will face SMU (3-2) in Dallas, and the Mustangs will see a more experienced Dobbs at quarterback. In Navy's current three-game winning streak, Dobbs has rushed for 339 yards and nine touchdowns and completed 9 of 12 passes for 202 yards. Last year, he didn't attempt a single pass against SMU.

Dobbs has also figured out ways to manage the inevitable soreness. On Fridays, after the Midshipmen have checked into their hotel, Dobbs fixes himself a hot bath with Epsom salts. He soaks his legs first and then slides onto his back, with his feet up on the wall, to submerge the rest of his body.

"That definitely works," Dobbs said of his grandmother's remedy. "You feel the difference."

On Saturday nights, after the game, Dobbs sleeps for only 3 1/2 or four hours. He stays up late watching movies -- he prefers suspense flicks and romances -- and then catches up on his sleep by taking a nap after church on Sunday.

"I feel like if I get a good night's rest, then I'll wake up and be so sore and I can't move," Dobbs said. "When I wake up after 3 1/2 hours, I'll just be tired and my body isn't as sore. I kind of trick my body so it won't notice that it's sore. . . .

"I wish I had known about the not-sleeping thing last year [after the SMU game]. I probably would've felt a little better."

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