- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo is mindful of the leadership qualities the academy instills in his players. So in that spirit, Niumatalolo selected members of the Midshipmen to offer their thoughts to the team during fall camp.

Among those who spoke were captains Osei Asante and Ross Pospisil, powerful locker room influences who provided sufficient motivational speeches.

But when quarterback Ricky Dobbs addressed the team, he garnered a different level of respect. The unassuming junior spoke not just of football but also of unity and brotherhood, and the Mids hung on his every word.

“I just think he’s a kid that people see his heart,” Niumatalolo said. “I don’t think he has any motives. He’s a kid that when you look at him and talk to him, he’s got pure intent. And I think anybody who sees that knows that about him. Whether you’re a [student at the academy] or football player or just a casual person meeting him, when you talk to him you know he’s speaking the truth. He makes you feel at ease because he’s such a great person.”

Dobbs’ genteel nature can be traced to his upbringing in Douglasville, Ga. When he was young, his parents split, and he stayed with his mother. But it was not the most structured environment - Dobbs could come and go as he pleased - so his uncle and youth football coach, Thomas Cobb, suggested to his sister that she let Dobbs spend time with his family.

At first, Dobbs just spent weekends at the Cobb household, but eventually he moved in. Cobb became a father figure - “He taught me everything I know about football, about quarterback, about knowledge in general,” Dobbs said - and is still oftentimes the first person Dobbs seeks for advice.

Living with Cobb was when he received the structure that has helped him handle the disciplined academy life and when he first embraced Christianity. Raised Baptist, Dobbs said his faith gives him the confidence he emits on a daily basis.

“In the Bible it says, ‘The Lord says that he won’t put more on you than you can bear.’ So everything that’s tossed on me, I know that I can handle it,” Dobbs said. “And if it gets to where I can’t bear it, he always provides a way out. But I’m the type of person that I believe in him, and I’m going to keep fighting no matter what, no matter how hard times may get because he’s going to hold me up.”

From the moment Navy left RFK Stadium on Dec. 20 after losing the inaugural EagleBank Bowl to Wake Forest, it has been Dobbs’ team. Fittingly, the 6-foot-1, 198-pounder finished the game as Navy’s quarterback, replacing now graduated Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada in the fourth quarter as the Mids desperately tried to rally. And Dobbs has not relinquished ownership of the team since.

He held 6 a.m. summer-session workouts three times a week with fullback Alexander Teich to get their exchange down. When those were done, he worked on passing routes with a group of the Mids’ untested receivers.

Dobbs spent so much time jelling with his teammates that offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper had to remind him to make sure he got himself ready to be the full-time starter. So Dobbs spent countless hours in the film room, studying the nuances of being a triple-option quarterback.

“He’s developed a lot. He’s always been a leader, but he’s actually stepped into the role where he is the icon for the team right now,” said safety Wyatt Middleton, one of Dobbs’ closest friends. “He’s taken on certain roles that he’ll have to take for us to succeed. He’s been more responsible. He’s spending more time in the film room. He’s getting smarter when it comes down to actually running the offense. He’s grown as an individual and as a football player.”

Fortifying the Mids’ confidence in Dobbs are his physical tools. He has the strongest arm of any Navy quarterback since former coach Paul Johnson reinstalled the triple option in Annapolis in 2002. Dobbs has drawn attention since he first started zipping passes around Navy’s practice fields as a member of the junior varsity squad two years ago, and this fall has been no different. Dobbs dazzled fans with his arm during the Mids’ scrimmages, completing several passes of more than 30 yards.

Add to that Niumatalolo’s desire to improve upon last season’s NCAA-low 93 pass attempts in order to balance out the offense, and Dobbs could be the most anticipated quarterback to take over the Mids this decade.

“I try not to worry about it, but I know that it’s there,” Dobbs said. “I put some kinds of expectations on myself, and that’s really the only thing that I worry about - expectations of myself and my coaches. Everybody else I could really care less what they expect of me because I’m just going to do what I expect from myself, which is nothing but the best and whatever my coaches want me to do.”

The quarterback is always the key to success in the triple option, but this year Dobbs’ play could be even more critical. Navy simply doesn’t have the depth it has had in recent years when Kaheaku-Enhada started and Jarod Bryant and Dobbs backed him up.

Sophomore Kriss Proctor planted awkwardly and injured his leg during one of Navy’s scrimmages and is on crutches following surgery. As a result, sophomore Mike Stukel, who was thriving at slotback, moved back to quarterback.

Keeping Dobbs healthy is Navy’s top priority, and Jasper was quick to point out that is why Dobbs’ aerial assault was on display all camp. But Navy’s play caller won’t hesitate to use Dobbs’ arm to his advantage.

“If we got weapons, we want to utilize them,” Jasper said. “It’s our job as an offensive staff to fine-tune it, to find ways to strategically plan how we are going to use it. We gotta find ways to use his throwing ability and be effective with it. But we made our living running the football, and we’re not going to change it. People forget that Ricky’s a good runner. So we’re gonna keep doing what we do and try to get people to defend us tightly, and maybe we can sneak a throw in here and there.”

Dobbs’ running ability was on display during his cameos last year. He saw action in only eight games but finished third on the team with 495 rushing yards and tied for first with eight touchdowns.

He stood out in the process, racking up 224 yards on the ground off the bench on a rainy afternoon against Southern Methodist in which the Mids didn’t attempt a pass. In his lone start, he ran for 124 yards and a touchdown.

There is no question Navy’s 2009 success rests largely on Dobbs’ shoulders. But if he needs any support, all he has to do is look around.

“I think guys on our team love playing for him,” Niumatalolo said. “They want to see him do well. There’s a genuine love for Ricky.

“I know it’s kind of corny, but it’s the truth.”

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