ANNAPOLIS | Perhaps the most recognizable Navy football player of the past decade was right at home last week, moving quickly around the Midshipmens practice fields.
Only this time, Ricky Dobbs was pushing a container of water around and preparing for a portion of his life that wont involve throwing a football.
As the likes of Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and others prepare to hear their names during the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday, Dobbs is anticipating his graduation from Navy. When other college stars venture out to their first training camp - eventually, anyway, considering the lockout - Dobbs will be coaching at the academys prep school.
And as the pros push for playoff spots in December, Dobbs will report to the USS Oscar Austin in Norfolk.
Playing football is over for the former quarterback, a man who less than a year ago was pegged as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and a possibility to lead the Midshipmen to an unbeaten season. But really, things are only getting started for the charismatic Dobbs.
"The end of the journey is only the beginning of another one," he observed.
He won't soon forget the last four years.
Dobbs completed his career as the school leader in touchdowns (49) and fifth in rushing yardage (2,665) but was still involved (like many seniors) during the last month as the Mids began working toward next season. In Friday's spring game, he made the play call for what became a 44-yard pass to set up the scrimmage's lone offensive touchdown.
He also spent time working with new starting quarterback Kriss Proctor, who couldn't help but tease his predecessor.
"It's great having Ricky here," Proctor said. "I say when you're wearing a visor, you know you're washed up. He's out here wearing a visor like all the coaches."
Replied Dobbs, visor atop his head: "I'm not washed up. I'm washed up in Navy terms. But I've still got it."
It's safe to assume the smarts and the arm are intact. But the one thing unquestionably in place is the smile college football fans - and not just Navy supporters - found so appealing.
He has reason to be happy. In the coming weeks, he'll become the first male from either side of his family to graduate from college. His dreams of coaching and becoming youth minister - as well as the famously stated ambition to become president- all remain possible. Success, in some form or another, seems as likely as it did when Dobbs drew the attention of national outlets entering his final season.
"I'm not worried about that," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "It's not if he's successful, it's when and where and what he wants to do."
In some ways, his fishbowl lifestyle - as the quarterback of a successful service academy team - is gone. Dobbs acknowledged he was treated differently during his career, but not because things were handed to him as some might believe. Instead, all eyes were constantly on him.
Now they aren't, and it isn't the worst thing.
"It's kind of like a relief, because you don't have to worry about pressure," Dobbs said. "Everything that Navy has demanded of me, it's like that burden is lifted off my shoulders. It's like I can breathe now for a little bit and relax and just have fun. It's a relief because being hit as many times as I've been hit, I don't see how one could miss that. Right now, I don't miss it at all."
Maybe in the fall the yearning to play will return. It's probably inevitable for a guy who led Navy to victories over both Army and Notre Dame in consecutive seasons.
But the totality of experience will trump any fleeting pangs then.
"I think I definitely wouldn't have been all the places I've been or seen the things that I've seen if I didn't come here because I feel like I've seen more than the star quarterbacks at any other school," Dobbs said. "More than Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, any guy you name, I feel like I've seen a whole lot more in my four years here just with the experience that the Navy brings. It's pretty much the same for my future, too."
Still, those guys will learn where their pro careers will begin this week. Dobbs already knows what his professional career will initially bring, even if it isn't in football. So, any regrets?
"Somebody asked me would I do it again," Dobbs said. "Probably not. The only way I would do it again is if that was the only way I could learn the things that I learned."
He smiled. He understood the paradox. It would have been more relaxed elsewhere. An easier path, less attention, more in line with an average college experience.
But those lessons weren't available elsewhere. Ricky Dobbs wouldn't be Ricky Dobbs if he didn't spend four years at the academy - or be as prepared as he is to continue on an arc most star college quarterbacks would ever consider accepting.
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