For three years, Ricky Dobbs terrified college football defenses. As the quarterback of Navy, he ran the patented triple option offense to near perfection, leading the Midshipmen to 20 wins and a Texas Bowl championship over his final two seasons. In the process, the Georgia native ran for 2,665 yards and set the career scoring record at Annapolis with 296 points. During the memorable 2009 season, Dobbs eclipsed Tim Tebow’s single season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, finding the end zone 27 times.
With those numbers under his belt, it may have been surprising to find the most famous Navy gridiron player since Roger Staubach walking the sidelines in street clothes, at the serviceable, but far from glamorous, field behind Crittenden Middle School, near downtown Newport News, late on a Wednesday evening. These days, Dobbs is serving his commitment as a naval officer – reporting to work as 1st Lt. Dobbs on the U.S.S. Oscar Austin, which is docked in Norfolk. At nights, and on many Saturdays, he pulls double duty as the quarterback of the semi-pro Virginia Cyclones.
Has the dream of pro football ended?
Not so fast. Dobbs, who was nursing bruised ribs after being gang tackled in a recent game against the Tidewater Renegades, is far from seeing Notre Dame (who he has beaten) on the other side of the scrimmage line when he takes the snap, but his long term plan includes making an NFL roster.
It’s just harder to do when your main job is running a division on a naval destroyer.
“I’m having fun…this is playing for fun,” says the man who once signed a Navy helmet five times for President Obama (“so he’d remember me” – a strategy that may come into play when he officially announces his 2040 run for President of the United States). “We’re playing for fun and respect.”
Initially, it was a classmate from his Douglasville high school that talked him into playing. Admitting that the hardest part of serving his Naval officer commitment has been “sitting out,” Dobbs seized the opportunity to work out with the Cyclones. With their new signal caller, the Cyclones won their first three games by a combined score of 70-13, before losing last 30-14 last Saturday to the Capital City Seahawks, a team based out of District Heights, MD.
On that day, Dobbs was nowhere to be found on the field. In fact, he was back at the Austin serving weekend duty. Facing the same problems as many civilians, he admitted, “I couldn’t get anyone to take my place.”
Dobbs aims to serve his commitment and move on to the NFL. While Staubach had to serve five full years as an officer before joining the Dallas Cowboys at 27, the rules have been readjusted, as more Midshipmen such as Napoleon McCallum have proven to be capable of playing pro ball. The current requirement is two years of active duty, followed by a petition to have the remaining time doubled and served with the reserves. In theory, the new officer commitment after graduating from a military academy can be altered to include two years of full-time duty and six as a reservist. Dobbs will reach the end of his second year in May, and then petition the Secretary of the Navy’s office. “I hope to have an answer by January,” says Dobbs, perhaps admitting his new year’s wish for 2014, one which would allow him to enter the NFL draft.
On the chilly night at Crittenden, Dobbs arrives for the 7:30 practice at 9:05, having been held up while driving back from Georgia. Immediately upon arrival, a dozen or so Cyclones come over to the sideline to check on their high profile teammate. Many ask about the status of his ribs, while one offers a flak jacket, which Dobbs tries on. While the semipro league is fun, there is a fraternal camaraderie among the players, all who have starred at some level of football in their lives, and all who pay $300 a season (Dobbs paid his own way) for the jerseys, pads and orange Under Armour tops which make them Cyclones. One can sense the team spirit in the conversations, as players complain about the pending bus ride to D.C., cleats that don’t fit, and a cheap penalty call from the previous game.
At the end of practice, the team gathers for a huddle at the middle of the field. Team owner and Coach Phillip Mann speaks first of the importance of the next game, and is followed by several assistants who stress unity and the importance of home field advantage in the upcoming playoffs, which the Cyclones made last spring with an 8-3 record.
Dobbs raises his hand to speak. Addressing his teammates, he echoes his coach’s sentiments, but adds more thoughts. “Don’t get caught up in the jaw jacking. Let ’em talk. It doesn’t matter what they say as long as we win. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2-0, as long as we get a W.” Dobbs’ speech is interspersed with a couple of salty words worthy of a Navy man, leaving one teammate to note, “Wow Ricky, didn’t know you cuss!”
The Cyclones (www.vacyclones.com), with Dobbs at quarterback, play their home games at Powhatan Field in Norfolk.