Navy's Mayor Has Lesson Worth Learning

Approaching an interview with Ricky Dobbs is like getting ready for an interview with the President. Never mind the litany of life experiences and accomplishments they've both achieved, but where does one even begin when trying to assemble the questions to ask?

Dobbs has an amazing story, to be sure, but it's a well documented one. From his days growing up as the ‘Mayor' of Douglassville, Georgia to his NCAA record-breaking year in 2009, the current Navy quarterback has achieved more fame and notoriety than any Midshipmen football player this side of the Kennedy administration.

A new angle? Fat chance, thought this particular writer. But what could it hurt, I figured. In a world of sports journalism where clichés get tossed around like footballs in Texas Tech's offense, I was more than happy to buy into the tried and true for the sake of a story. After all, the Dobbs tale might have been an oldie, but it was, and remains, a definite goodie.

All of this I pondered at 12:30 on a sunny Friday afternoon as I dialed Ricky Dobbs' number into my cell phone.

Our initial conversation was brief. Turns out I had caught Ricky at a bad time, but he promised to call me ten minutes later. Phew, I mentally exclaimed. I wasn't ready anyways, and I could use the extra couple of minutes to get my questions in order. Decked out beneath the Maryland heat, I waited for the call.

It never came.

10 minutes passed in no time. 1:30 came and went. By 3:00 there was still no ring, but a text message at 3:30 let me know that he'd be calling back soon. Turns out Ricky had gotten held up, but he hadn't forgotten about our interview.

"No problem," I texted back, secretly annoyed on the inside. Granted, Ricky Dobbs is a very important person, but I don't like to be kept waiting. I'm a busy and important person too, you know. A busy and important person who had put my entire afternoon on hold for this interview. Didn't Dobbs – the aspiring politician and future Navy officer -- know that it's impolite to keep people waiting? I couldn't wait all day for him. I had stuff to do. Important stuff like checking my facebook account and watching reruns of Full House on Nickelodeon. Needless to say, this wasn't exactly the afternoon I bargained for when I agreed to this interview.

To make a long story short, Dobbs finally did call back: a whole four and a half hours after the "in ten minutes" he had promised earlier. Automatically and true to form I fired off my questions, more or less moving from one to another without giving second thought or pause to his answers. In twenty minutes the interview was done, and I put any thoughts of my story on the backburner as I settled onto my couch for an evening of Big Ten network reruns and a bag of Pretzel M&Ms.

Only later, when I took the time to read my email and review the audio, did Dobbs' lesson – and that usually trite ‘message' I had expected to hear – hit home for me.

Truth be told, Dobbs had good reason for not getting back to me. The entire time I thought he was blowing me off he was actually joining fourteen teammates at the Cape St. Clair Youth Football Camp, speaking about the importance of hard-work, dreaming big, and having faith in a Higher power and greater purpose in life. Volunteering his time is something I knew he did in the past, but as I listened to our conversation I began to realize just how important it is to him, and just how engrained it is into his character.

"What I usually tell (the kids) is how important it is to have a plan and to dream big; set goals, and to have the goals to reach those dreams," Dobbs had told when I had asked him about volunteering at camps in the past.

"I tell them it's important that they listen to their parents and coaches," he added. "I also tell them about my personal relationship with God and how He has affected me and been there for me. It gives them something to believe in if they're Christian, and if not, just in general in a belief in a Higher Power."

This wasn't a guy who was just talking the talk. Hearing athletes speak about their relationship with God is always a touchy subject. Forget the fact that society seems to frown on outward expressions of belief in anything but the individual, but so often the athletes who tout themselves as men of faith fail to live up to the tenants of those faiths'.

Dobbs is different. He's a young man who lives his faith each and everyday, and puts it into action with every opportunity he gets.

As I reflected on the afternoon's events, it struck me that if there was anyone in the world who could have used a ‘day off,' it was Dobbs. He had spent the previous weeks receiving awards and honors, traveling to his hometown to get the key the city while also answering numerous questions from reporters and journalists. Not a day goes by where he isn't involved in representing the Academy, and in each case his message couldn't be more humble or selfless.

"I try to stay humble because (the success) is not for me," Dobbs had said during our interview. "It's not intended for me – I believe this is the way God is using me to orchestrate His plan, and I'm just the instrument. I feel blessed to be a part of His plan and a part of His mission."

Back in Annapolis after the briefest of summer vacations, Dobbs was hard at work Friday as I was sitting on my rear end. While I was lounging around listening to a Sublime song and munching on a Pop-Tart, Dobbs was out in the 90 degree Maryland heat running sprints and lifting weights – determined to improve his conditioning for a season still two months away. And while I was killing time and peeving that I couldn't take a nap lest I miss his call, Dobbs joined his head coach on an impromptu visit to make some kid's day and hopefully ignite the spark of dreaming big in our society's greatest asset: youth.

All of that, and he still managed to get find the time to get back to me, never missing a beat in delivering the message about God's plan and his part in it. As for what that plan entails, Dobbs doesn't presume to know the answers, and said that all he can do is continue to play hard on the field and speak about his experiences in life to all whom he encounters.

"Different people have different perspectives on my life and what I do," he told me.

"To be honest I have no clue (what God's plan for me is)," continued Dobbs. "I just look to take it one day at a time and continue to play. That's all I can do, because I have no clue as to what He has in store for me. I know that I'm here for something and He is using me with football….I'm just sitting back and watching. He is in the driver seat."

Dobbs may not know what God has in store for him or how Divine Providence is guiding his life, but as I think back to our conversation I can't help but think myself a student in some greater lesson. At a time when the Academy is dealing with allegations of impropriety with its football players and has come under increased – and often unwarranted – suspicion from outside media sources, Dobbs' steady, humble example of selflessness couldn't be timelier. Yet for those of us caught up in the trivial things of life – our jobs, ambitions, petty or vain concerns – the very notion of an individual who spurns the spotlight in favor of a Higher calling is not only refreshing, but very much needed. It's a reminder of why we all developed a love for sports in the first place, and a homage to the days when we could look up to our favorite athletes as not just great ball-players, but as our heroes and role models as well.

Recalled from my own meaningless anxieties, Dobbs' message – the same "trite" message I had expected to hear – suddenly became intensely personal, as if God Himself was using this always smiling human battering ram of a quarterback to alert me to the things that really matter in life. Deadlines, stories, publicity: the usual concerns of my job hardly seemed to matter after talking to Dobbs, as his message and the lesson taken from that message suddenly became my focus.

It wasn't the first time I had talked to Ricky Dobbs, but it may just have been the first time I really took the chance to listen to him. And, something tells me, if we all took the time to just listen to the Ricky Dobbs' of the world, we'd probably find a future as bright as the Mayor's smile.

Adam Nettina is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Sports Editor for the Utah Statesman. You can follow him online at twitter.com/AdamNettina

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