Ricky Dobbs and Navy football team worthy of salute

Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs has amassed 22 touchdowns rushing, 1,549 yards total offense -- and immeasurable respect.
Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs has amassed 22 touchdowns rushing, 1,549 yards total offense -- and immeasurable respect. (Gail Burton/associated Press)
By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Navy's Ricky Dobbs leads the nation in touchdowns with 22 after scoring five last Saturday. He's just one shy of the NCAA single-season record for a quarterback, held by Florida's Tim Tebow and former Air Force standout Chance Harridge.

Dobbs, who has led Navy to a superb 8-3 season, was asked this week to name two teammates who don't get as much credit as they deserve. This, of course, is irony, because no Naval Academy athlete ever gets as much credit as is deserved.

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound junior who runs Navy's devastating triple-option offense is always "reading" -- defensive formations, a lineman's stance, whether to hand off, run the ball himself or pitch out. Everything is nuance, as he operates the great equalizer offense that allows a smart, small, unselfish, hard-hitting team such as Navy to beat Notre Dame and play dead level on the road against top 10 powers such as Ohio State (in a 31-27 loss) and Pitt (a 27-14 loss). This season, Navy will go to its seventh straight bowl and is trying to become the first 11-win team in school history.

But Dobbs, a quarterback who runs like a fullback and is nicknamed "Backdoor Ricky" because he "runs out the back door" to salvage so many busted plays, is far from easy to read. He dreams big, is far from shy. He vows to play in the NFL after his Navy service "until somebody tells me it's absolutely not a go." When his hero, President Obama, visited the Navy team, Dobbs signed the gift ball "five times so he'd see my name."

How would a young man so driven and popular (vice president of his class) respond when asked to praise teammates in a brief 15-minute interview? (It's Navy; it's scheduled.) Blow it off, maybe?

"Do you have a roster?" Dobbs said.

Off the top of your head will be fine.

"No," he said. It wouldn't be fair.

Slowly, Dobbs ran his finger down every name, making marks in the margin: safety Emmett Merchant ("perseverance"), safety Wyatt Middleton ("consistent"), cornerback Kevin Edwards ("drive"), slotback Bobby Doyle ("quiet confidence"), fullback Vince Murray ("old-school hard nose, like myself, no flashy stuff"), defensive end Matt Nechak ("hard worker"), guard Curtis Bass ("the biggest backbone"), defensive end Michael Walsh ("determined") and defensive end Jabaree Tuani ("our man-child").

Of the nine, only Murray (796 yards rushing) has scored a point for Navy this season. None is among the top three tacklers on defense. Yet all are indeed valuable parts of a Navy team that epitomizes a unique spirit: a passion for football and each other, grounded in a commitment to service.

"That sounds like Ricky," said senior linebacker Ross Pospisil, shaved head, grinning. "That's who we are. . . . We have to depend on each other. People say our team doesn't get enough recognition. But we're comfortable. We don't feel entitled. We're not going to out-bench-press anybody or beat 'em in the 40-yard dash. Respect is something we have to earn each and every game."

Odd. Perhaps the teams in America that should least need to "earn respect" are the military academies. Yet they value it most.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company