The future stars of Ohio State football officially begin their Buckeye careers as standouts from all over the country put pens to their National Letters of Intent.
Ohio State's recent history at running back has been nothing short of spectacular. Carlos Hyde became Urban Meyer's first 1,000-yard rusher in 2013 and would go on to be selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. Everyone knows about Ezekiel Elliott who led a 2014 squad that would ultimately become national champions with wins over Alabama and Oregon. As a rookie, he's already one of the best players in the NFL and could very well take home its MVP honors.
The Dobbins File
SIZE: 5-foot-10, 200 pounds
SCHOOL: La Grange (Texas)
COMPOSITE RANKING: ★★★★
COMPOSITE RANK: 2 (APB)
The 2016 backfield featured redshirt freshman Mike Weber and do-it-all star Curtis Samuel. Weber topped the 1,000-yard mark in his first season in a featured role but does lack some of the explosiveness that Elliott brought to the table.
Next season, J'Kaylin "J.K." Dobbins – a four-star early enrollee from La Grange, Texas – may very well bring that explosive element back to Columbus.
Early on, it was thought that the Buckeyes would definitely look to bring in two tailbacks for the Class of 2017. Akron's Todd Sibley committed in April of 2015, but that didn't stop Ohio State and Tony Alford from looking for another to help man the backfield.
Cam Akers and Najee Harris were names that were mentioned throughout the cycle. Harris was always a long shot while Akers was a very realistic target for the majority of the process, though most did expect him to remain in the South.
Ohio State offered J.K. Dobbins in February of 2015. At the time, he already held offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, and Notre Dame. Early on in the process, most had him pegged to stick around Big 12 territory as his crystal ball is still split between burnt orange and crimson.
Even though he was the country's third-ranked all-purpose back at the time, it wasn't an offer that many people paid a lot of attention. He was a Texas kid with offers from all the major in-state programs and he had never even stepped foot on Ohio State's campus.
What was the purpose in getting excited at that point? Well....
Dobbins committed to Ohio State on March 6th of 2016, just two weeks after receiving his offer. The commitment came out of the blue and was instantly compared to those of Marcus Baugh and Haskell Garrett. Baugh pledged to the Buckeyes in January of 2013 before ever visiting and Garrett – a fellow 2017 commit – did the same just about a month before Dobbins made the call.
Naturally, people began expressing some doubt as to whether or not the commitment would stick, but Dobbins proceeded to make a trip to Columbus later in March and said all of the right things throughout the entirety of the process. In fact, he never even took a visit to another school, which is actually pretty remarkable given this day and age of recruiting.
Dobbins and his family haven't had it easy. He and his brothers didn't grow up with the most stable conditions, living with cousins and grandparents at various points in their childhood. His father Lawrence, a former star at La Grange, passed away suddenly at the age of 33. J.K. was only a freshman in high school at the time.
My dad believed in me. He did, and he's gone now. Whenever that happened, it kind of made me man up even more. I've seen a lot of things in my lifetime, but when that happened, it made me man up. And it just matured me faster. Via
His understanding of relationships and why they should be so valued is a big part of the reason he stuck with the Buckeyes through it all. He developed a mutual respect for Tony Alford and Urban Meyer.
J'Kaylin didn't plan on committing to Ohio State or anywhere else so soon, but sometimes things just feel right and then it happens. Despite growing up a Longhorn fan and identifying the University of Texas as his dream school, Dobbins knew that Columbus was the place for him.
"At the moment I didn't," Dobbins told Eleven Warriors when asked if he ever considered a commitment in the way it occurred. "But, when I got to know (Tony) Alford and (Urban) Meyer and did a little bit of research, my heart said said 'this is it.'"
After his pledge, Ohio State would eventually see the aforementioned Todd Sibley make his way out of the class and pledge to the Pitt Panthers. The Buckeyes continued the pursuit of Cam Akers, and while there was some talk about Dobbins staying in Texas, he remained firm to the Buckeyes. The majority of the Longhorn chatter came after their exciting season-opening win over the Fighting Irish, but things obviously went downhill for Charlie Strong after that.
At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Dobbins is an explosive back with impressive speed. He's not just a straight-line burner, but he also has some shiftiness and the quick feet that are required to make defenders miss. As a junior, he rushed for 2,740 yards and 35 touchdowns. He's also a very capable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
His Scout.com evaluation shows why Buckeye fans should be very excited:
"Perfect fit for the spread offense. He is a bit of a different breed from a speed and agility perspective. He's one of those guys who seems almost impossible to bring down as he ducks and dodges tackles and at times makes defenders look silly as they end up just grasping at nothing but air where Dobbins used to be standing." - Via
His athleticism was very much on display this past July when he participated in Nike's The Opening. He would end up taking home the Nike+ Football Rating Championship after recording a 4.45 forty-yard dash, 43.1-inch vertical leap, 4.09 20-yard shuttle, and a powerball toss of 42 feet.
A very familiar face was in Oregon to hand out the award.
His performances over the summer saw Dobbins rise up the recruiting rankings where he currently sits as the No. 42 player in America and the No. 2 all-purpose back. Many thought he was on track to enter five-star territory with an impressive senior campaign, but the La Grange star was injured on the first play of the season.
After being diagnosed with a broken right fibula, he would miss the entirety of his senior season. However, he was contemplating playing in the Army All-American Bowl before ultimately deciding to sit it out. His health does not appear to be a concern heading into his freshman season.
Dobbins arrived in Columbus earlier this week and it's reasonable to expect him to see the field as a true freshman. Mike Weber, Demario McCall, and Antonio Williams are expected to lead the way in the backfield, but Williams is unproven and McCall could potentially take over the Curtis Samuel role, so a redshirt for the Texas phenom is unlikely.
He's already made it pretty clear that he expects to see the field early.
The four-star deserves a lot of respect for how he handled his recruitment. It was clear early on that he fell in love with Ohio State and its coaching staff. He remained loyal to the Buckeyes despite being courted by all of the local powerhouses, including his lifelong favorite who hired one of the hottest young coaches in the country a few months before signing day.
Dobbins released a letter to Buckeye Nation on National Signing Day: