COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.K. Dobbins couldn’t have had a worse start to his senior season.
The four-star running back from La Grange, Texas, sustained an ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage in La Grange’s season opener Aug. 28. It’s still unclear how much time he will miss, but he’s yet to play – and it’s possible that he’ll miss his entire senior season.
When healthy, however, Dobbins is an electric talent that has Ohio State fans excited about his potential. He rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and 72 touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons and ranks as the No. 1 all-purpose back nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.
La Grange coach Matt Kates opened up about Dobbins’ injury and potential in this Q & A with Landof10.com.
Q: What happened on the injury?
Kates: “It was a normal football play. He kind of got his foot caught up underneath him, which happens sometimes. It’s crazy that it happened on the first play of the season, but he’s battling back from it.”
Q: What’s the prognosis?
Kates: “Long term, he’s going to be as good as he ever was. He’s going to be an unbelievable college football player. I know I’m biased, but, in my opinion – and I think Ohio State’s opinion, as well – he’s the best back in the nation. There’s nothing he can’t do on a football field. In the long-term, he’s going to be as good as he ever was. Short term, it’s tough on him because game days are tough when he knows he’s not going to be playing. There’s still a chance that he’s going suit up for us at some point this year.”
Q: When did you realize he had a chance to be a player of this caliber?
Kates: “I’ve been around some big-time guys, but I’ve never seen as dynamic a football player with the ball in his hands. The 43-inch vertical leap translates on the field. A lot of time you’ve got kids with measurables but you put them on the field and it doesn’t translate. Every one of his measurables translates onto the field. That’s what jumps out on film. More than all of that, his work ethic and character are unmatched. He’s the best player we have but also the hardest worker we have. He’s in there (weight room) right now with a boot on his foot, but he’s not missing an upper-body workout. He’s doing everything he can to stay in top shape. He’s one of those special guys.
“We knew that from the time he was in seventh or eighth grade. When I took this job, he was finishing his fifth-grade year over at the elementary school. Being such a small town, you know them all the way down to Pre-K and kindergarten. We knew we had a special one the second he got here. We’d watched him in sixth grade PE class, and to see it all come to fruition has been rewarding.”
Q: When did colleges begin to take notice?
Kates: “His sophomore tape is as impressive as anything you’re going to see. That’s when people got to see the explosiveness and got to see all the things he can do on the football field. He had 37 touchdowns and almost 2,400 yards. I think he averaged 12.5 yards a touch, and, at the same time, he was playing every snap at safety on defense because we’re a small enough school that they play both ways. Big-time kids from big-time programs don’t have to do that. He’s a jewel, for sure.”
Q: How would you describe his personality?
Kates: “He’s one of those guys that everybody wants to be around. Sometimes, you get these guys who are just odd and can’t handle the attention that comes their way, but he’s not that way at all. Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s got it when it comes to personality. He’s a ‘Yes sir, no sir’ type of guy, and that’s a testament to his upbringing. He’s a humble guy and not boastful at all.
“Now when he gets on the football field, something switches on him. It’s intense. He loves the game of football. If I was a Division I recruiter, that would be No. 1 on my list how much does this kid love football? Does he love football, or does he love the hype and love getting recruited? How much does he love the weight room, and how much does he love practice? Those are the things that separate him from a lot of other kids around the nation. You can’t outwork him.”
Q: Is there a play or performance of his that stands out to you and shows what type of football player he is?
Kates: “No doubt, no doubt. His sophomore year, we were 13-0 and playing in the quarterfinals against West Orange-Stark, who went to the finals that year. One of their safeties (four-star recruit Deionte Thompson) was an Alabama commit from the class of 2015. So you’ve got an Alabama safety sitting there and we snap it and our end doesn’t kick and our other tailback gets caught up, so J.K. is on his own. He spin moves past a 5-technique that’s unblocked, comes out of the spin move and he’s pretty much in a phone booth with the Alabama safety. He’s a sophomore going up against a senior who was an early enrollee and who was at Alabama a month later as an early enrollee. He gives him one of those shakes and the kid completely whiffs on him and then he goes for about 20 down the sideline. Knowing who he was doing that against stands out to me as a sign that he’s not only one of the best in Texas, he’s one of the best in the nation.”