COLUMBUS — All it took was 585 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns during J.K. Dobbins’ freshman season at La Grange High School, located smack dab between Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, for TCU coach Gary Patterson to conclude the running back was destined for stardom.
TCU became the first school to offer Dobbins a scholarship, and strong relationships were built between the coaching staff and Dobbins. But when Ohio State began sniffing around the 5-foot-10, 214-pound whirling dervish, Dobbins packed his belongings and headed north.
The sophomore returns to AT&T Stadium on Saturday for the second time in his young career, and he’ll be staring across the field at TCU and Patterson’s fierce defense.
“It’s always fun going back to the home state. I’m looking forward to it,” Dobbins said. “I know their coaches well, so it’s going to be fun to play against them.”
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Dobbins proved those coaches prescient last year, becoming just the sixth true freshman to start for Ohio State at any position and the first at running back since Maurice Clarett. He started all 14 games, rushing for an OSU freshman record 1,403 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and scoring seven touchdowns.
The Buckeyes faced three teams that ranked in the top five in total defense or rush defense, and Dobbins gained 100 yards against all three — 101 at Michigan, 124 vs. Michigan State, and 174 against Wisconsin.
“J.K. deserves the ball,” Urban Meyer said last year in the midst of Dobbins’ impressive first-year campaign.
Those performances put Dobbins permanently at the top of the depth chart. But the carries don’t always reflect that. Through two games, Ohio State has used a platoon system, with Dobbins and junior Mike Weber occupying the backfield on every other possession.
So far, so good. Ohio State owns the nation’s No. 2-ranked scoring offense (64.5 points) and 12th-best rushing offense (300.0 yards). Dobbins has 147 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries; Weber has 217 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.
“I keep saying it’s a two-headed monster,” acting head coach Ryan Day said. “You’ve got two guys going there that are really, really talented.”
The production has been satisfactory enough for Dobbins to take the offensive line to lunch Monday at Benihana. Weber and quarterback Dwayne Haskins were supposed to help split the tab, but other obligations kept them away. The key to keeping the bill low, according to Dobbins, is the cheaper lunch menu as opposed to dinner offerings.
“Those guys do a great job,” he said. “They take care of us, quarterbacks and running backs. They block very, very good.”
Dobbins has no beef with Weber for skipping out on lunch — or for splitting carries. Exuding a team-first mentality, Dobbins rattled off all the reasons he favors sharing the workload: less fatigue, he isn’t as sore, and just win, baby.
“We’re winning games,” Dobbins said. “That’s all that matters. I’m a team guy. It’s not all about me. Whatever helps the team, that’s what I like.”
On a southeast Texas football field in 2013, Patterson saw a budding star. On Saturday night, deep in the heart of Texas, the TCU coach will catch an up-close glimpse of what might have been for the Horned Frogs’ offense.
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