Navy's Ricky Dobbs stands out
Leadership is a given at the United States Naval Academy, as much a part of life there as white uniforms and the Severn River. The culture and the curriculum instill leadership in every midshipman.
Having a sideline full of players who are taught teamwork and leadership doesn't compensate for the built-in strictures on recruiting -- the academics, the postgraduate service commitment -- but it makes life a lot more pleasurable for Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo.
Even in that crowd, amid a locker room of future Naval and Marine Corps officers, quarterback Ricky Dobbs stands out.
Asking his coaches to explain Dobbs' leadership is like asking them to describe beauty or love or any other essential human quality.
"First of all, he's an athlete," offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. "He's a very spiritual person. The kid just has something about him. He has got that aura that people gravitate to."
Jasper recalled watching Dobbs in the lobby of the team hotel in December, the night before the Army-Navy game.
"He sits there and people just come," Jasper said. "Mothers, dads, graduates."
Classmates are drawn toward him, too; they elected Dobbs the vice president of the Class of 2011.
"He's confident but not arrogant," Niumatalolo said. "Very humble. There are no hidden agendas. When you speak to him, you see clear eyes. People gravitate toward him. He's got an aura about him. People believe in him. You can see it in the huddle."
Beyond his aura and gravitational pull, the senior from Douglasville, Ga., is the only quarterback in the nation whose biography includes personal goals of winning the Super Bowl and becoming president in the 2040 election.
People gravitate toward him. He's got an aura about him. People believe in him. You can see it in the huddle.” -- Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo
Time to lower the cynicism spectacles. In an age in which national politics is bloodsport and the American public holds its government in whatever is lower than low esteem, Dobbs is a reminder of a different era.
"That's something in life I have wanted to do," Dobbs said. "That's what I want to do best, have an impact on people, make the world a better place, one person at a time."
President Barack Obama acknowledged Dobbs when the Navy team went to the White House in May, its reward for winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.
"Now, I also understand Ricky has announced for the presidency -- in the year 2040. I know people are announcing early these days -- but, Ricky, that's a bit much," Obama teased.
Just last week, Dobbs met John Dalton, the former secretary of the Navy.
"He pointed out something to me, something most interesting," Dobbs said. "President Jimmy Carter is from Georgia and he graduated from the Naval Academy. Maybe history will repeat itself."
But the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Dobbs wouldn't have attracted the attention he has received just because of his personality and his goals. There's also his record-setting performance last season. Dobbs rushed for 27 touchdowns, an NCAA record for quarterbacks, and 1,192 yards. He threw for 1,031 yards, which is more than you think when you consider he plays in an offense that doesn't like to pass.
Dobbs did all that despite missing one game and playing only six snaps in another because of a cracked kneecap, an injury he did not have repaired until January. To repeat, Dobbs played the last five games of the season, games in which he averaged 29 carries for 122 yards and two rushing touchdowns, with a cracked kneecap.
Dobbs said the kneecap is 100 percent healthy now, although he didn't take a pain-free step until June. It took five months to recuperate, in part because of his lack of patience.
"I kept trying to do stuff to see if I could test it," Dobbs said. "I probably shouldn't have been running as much as I did. It delayed the program."
Dobbs' goal for this season is to find a greater command of the offense. "I want to get to the line of scrimmage and call the play without Coach Jasper having to call it," Dobbs said.
And when the play ends, you will see Dobbs, wearing No. 4, giving a hand up to an opposing player who's been knocked to the ground. It's a habit he picked up in high school.
"At first, some teams wouldn't take the hand," he said. "Later on, they would be helping me up."
That's helping one person at a time.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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