ANNAPOLIS | During the summer, Navy sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs made a list of goals for this season that included earning a start by the end of the year.
But with two seniors ahead of him on the depth chart - returning starter Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and offensive captain Jarod Bryant - Dobbs expected to spend the year as an apprentice.
Little did he know. Thanks to injuries and a trio of superlative performances, Dobbs will make his first career start Tuesday night when the Midshipmen (6-4) visit Northern Illinois (6-5).
“That is the one position from the standpoint of the guys that we had coming back [that] I never thought we would be in the position we are in right now, but we are very fortunate to have three good quarterbacks,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We are excited about Ricky. He’ll do a good job.”
Dobbs was pressed into his first significant action of the season Oct. 25 against SMU when Bryant sprained his right shoulder on the Mids’ second drive. (Kaheaku-Enhada already was unavailable because of the hamstring injury that has plagued him all season.) Dobbs responded with 42 carries, 224 yards and four touchdowns to lead Navy to a 34-7 rout.
A week later against Temple, with Bryant still hurting, Dobbs came in after Kaheaku-Enhada pulled up lame in the second quarter. With an assist from the defense, Dobbs rallied Navy from 20 points down in the fourth quarter, then capped the win with a touchdown run in overtime.
And then Nov. 15 against Notre Dame, after putting together just one touchdown drive all afternoon, the Mids scored 14 points in the final 2:30 with Dobbs at the helm. That comeback fell short, but another productive effort from Dobbs triggered the change at quarterback.
“Words can’t even explain how excited I am,” Dobbs said last week. “I wish the game was [Saturday] because I’m so anxious, but there’s an upside to that, too. It gives you a little bit more time to prepare and just get more time in practice under my belt.”
A month ago, that might have been a problem. Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper had said Dobbs made mental mistakes in practice - missed reads, turnovers - that led them to believe he wasn’t ready to start. But that was before he emerged on game days.
“After what he has done on the field against Temple, SMU and Notre Dame, you have to believe in what you see,” Niumatalolo said.
Last week in practice, Dobbs was crisper than in earlier showings. It helped that Niumatalolo made the switch last Monday, giving Dobbs a full week of practice with the first team.
“I’m keying in a little bit more and focusing a little bit better,” Dobbs said. “There’s just a different mentality I’ve been coming in with. The team is moving. Everybody’s flying around. I’m motivated, so I think I’ve been practicing pretty good.”
Now the 6-foot-1, 194-pound native of Douglasville, Ga., is tasked with translating his relief work into four quarters of success, something the Mids are yearning for after being outgained the past two games.
“He’s always been able to run the offense,” Jasper said. “It’s just a matter of doing the right thing consistently. You can go out there and read the option all the way down the field great until third-and-1, [then] see the read and miss it - and then we got to go out there and kick a field goal.
“It’s just being consistent.”