Three weeks into the season and the Ohio State Buckeyes may have found a brand-new future superstar in college football: J.K. Dobbins. The true freshman from La Grange, Texas, is off to a blazing hot start for the Buckeyes. After a stellar Week 1 performance on the road at Indiana, Dobbins took the reins as the lead back for the Scarlet and Gray. He continued his dominance this past Saturday against Army when he carried the ball 13 times for 172 yards and added two touchdowns to his stat line. Stat lines like this will sound familiar to the die-hard Buckeye football fan — the last time these stat lines were consistently seen in Columbus they were from none other than fan favorite, Ezekiel Elliott.
So, with the stat lines looking very similar, that begs the question: Has Urban Meyer found a new workhorse to ride to the College Football Playoff? Maybe. It’s not just the data that is similar, but Dobbins’ running style, shiftiness, and breakaway speed are positively Elliott-esque. What is more is that the new kid somehow manages to wear his own version of the crop-top jersey legally, even though it was outlawed by the NCAA in 2015 after Zeek flaunted his on OSU’s national championship run.
JK Dobbins’ promise has been clear for a while now. Ohio State’s newest star was ranked 44th on ESPN’s Top 300 players from the 2017 graduating class. He was a U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection in 2017 and earned Most Valuable Player honors in his district as both a high school sophomore and junior. Prior to that, in 2014, he was a first-team All State selection and second-team All State in 2013. He also had two respective seasons of rushing for over 2,000 yards in 2014 and 2015 running for La Grange High. Such eye-popping seasons drew interest from several university recruiters early on.
Ohio State received a verbal commitment from Dobbins on March 6, 2016, beating out top contenders such as Oklahoma and Texas. With so much hype around him going into his senior season, Dobbins caught bad luck in August 2016. On the first play of his senior year, he injured his ankle. The injury forced him to end his high school career.
While some schools might have considered pulling their scholarship offers after a season-ending injury, Urban Meyer stayed true to his word. He even allowed Dobbins to enroll at Ohio State a semester early this past January, along with the rest of Ohio State’s star-studded 2017 recruiting class.
After participating in spring practice with the team, Dobbins impressed the coaching staff enough for them to keep an eye on him heading into the fall camp. After a few weeks of impressing the staff even more when showing up for fall camp, on Aug. 4, Dobbins became the first freshman of the entire 2017 class to have his black stripe removed from the top of his helmet. The black stripe is an Urban Meyer tradition to signify that Meyer and the coaching staff has seen enough growth from a freshman in camp. It is seen as almost of a promotion from the high school ranks to the “big leagues”, that is the college game.
With the staff already oozing of excitement for the true freshman, his chance to show what he was made of came quickly. When projected starter and returning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Mike Weber had to sit out the first game of the 2017 season, thanks to a lingering hamstring injury, Dobbins got the call and made the most of the spotlight of a primetime game on ESPN. On Aug. 31, Dobbins became the first true freshman to start at tailback for the Scarlet and Gray in his first game since Maurice Clarett back in 2002, when Clarett dazzled with a 175-yard performance and three touchdowns against Texas Tech. At Indiana last month, Dobbins eclipsed Clarett’s school records by rushing for 181 yards.
That night, a star was born. Meyer announced soon after that Dobbins had earned the starting job for the Buckeyes, and Dobbins hasn’t looked back since. He rushed for 72 yards against Oklahoma on 13 carries and then 172 yards on 13 carries in this weekend’s rout against Army. No one has burst onto the scene like this since, of course, Elliott did back in 2014 when Ohio State went on their epic title run.
With the similarities in their style of play, similar stat outputs and their physical attributes, that bodes the question: Is Dobbins the next Ohio State great running back just as Elliott was for the Bucks? It’s trending towards a yes. However, it remains to be seen if Urban Meyer will ride the coattails of the offense’s newest toy and give him upwards of 20 to 30 carries a game, just as they did with Elliott in 2014. If Dobbins keeps ripping off 7.7 yards per carry, as he’s doing right now, it will be hard for Meyer not to feed the true freshman with more carries to get back to the Big Ten Championship and ultimately the College Football Playoff.