ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The picture, posted on Twitter in the waning minutes of the night before national signing day for college football recruiting, stirred a passionate Tennessee fan base craving good news and wins.
In the center of the image was a smiling Butch Jones, the Volunteers' new coach, on the phone with two support staffers celebrating in the background and a tease of "great" news.
"Who is it?" wondered the Tennessee fans who saw the picture.
The answer came the next morning when Alpharetta, Ga., quarterback Josh Dobbs quietly flipped from a commitment to Arizona State and signed with the Vols.
The dual-threat Dobbs actually made his decision a few days before his call to Jones and Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
"I know I really enjoyed Tennessee when I came on the visit," Dobbs said Thursday inside the office of Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes. "They were elated. They were both extremely excited, as you saw in the picture, and it was good to have that excitement coming from the coaching staff."
"A different cat"
To understand the excitement of Tennessee's staff in landing Dobbs to pair with Charlotte quarterback Riley Ferguson in the 2013 class, simply watch the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder's video highlights or take a look at ESPN or 247sports, the two services that rated him as a four-star prospect.
The video and the ratings, though, explain only a little about the incoming quarterback.
"He's a different cat," said Dukes, who played on Georgia Tech's offensive lines in the early 1990s.
An impressive student with a 4.0-plus grade-point average in all honors and advanced placement courses in high school, Dobbs' first tangible "We want you" came from Princeton, and fellow Ivy League rivals Harvard and Yale followed suit. He's not shy about his fascination with planes and his interest in corresponding subjects such as calculus and physics that made majoring in aeronautical engineering an important part of his recruitment. It's one of the reasons he committed to Arizona State last June and part of the package that sold him on Tennessee.
"I was looking at schools that didn't offer that but offered engineering and some other things," he said, "but it was was definitely a huge part in my decision, because I know the field I want to go into after football, so a big key to that is getting a good undergraduate degree in that field."
Despite the mostly silent way in which his recruitment finished -- Dobbs did minimal interviews in the days leading into signing day -- he's well-spoken, polite and incredibly personable.
He began playing football and baseball when he was 5 years old and grew up watching Michael Vick play for the hometown Atlanta Falcons and admiring Donovan McNabb's quarterbacking ability. He played basketball until his sophomore year at the Wesleyan School in nearby Norcross. By the time he transferred to Alpharetta for his junior year, he already was receiving offers to play both football and baseball in college.
Even then, playing a sport in college wasn't big in Dobbs' mind.
"My parents, because they're so big on academics, they didn't really put that in the forefront of my mind," he said. "They were just like, 'Continue to work hard in school, and you'll be able to go to whatever school you want. It'll open up doors.' Then of course when colleges started looking at me junior year, that's when it was big in my mind.
"I know my parents, really their major focus is of course academics, always has been academics and will always be academics."
Many recruits' parents are the same way, but probably few stressed academics as much as Dobb's parents. The only child of Robert, who works for Wells Fargo, and Stephanie, who worked for UPS and now is retired, heard a constant message growing up: grades then sports. Always.
"They were hard on me if I made a B on a test," Dobbs said with a smile. "I've never made a B on my report card. I've had straight A's since they started giving A's."
From Ivy to Orange
The Vols didn't enter Dobbs' recruiting radar until Jones called the day after he was hired at Tennessee. Derek Dooley and Tennessee's previous assistants knew of Dobbs because they were recruiting Alpharetta defensive end Naim Mustafaa, a longtime Georgia commitment who made an official visit to Knoxville for the Alabama game and ended up enrolling at Oklahoma State last month. Dobbs characterized his interaction with that staff as "very limited," though he did throw for them once in person.
"They wanted to get me up for a camp last summer, but that was very hectic," he said. "I wasn't able to make it up because I was trying to visit schools that had offered me at that point."
Dobbs admitted he wondered why some bigger names weren't calling him with offers. When he committed in June, his only SEC offers were from Mississippi State and Arkansas. Among the others were Syracuse, TCU, Duke, Wake Forest and Illinois.
"I know a lot of the quarterbacks that are in my class started varsity football before I did," Dobbs said. "I know my first year starting varsity was my junior year. I knew that just with time if I continued to work hard, the opportunities would come -- I just had to put in the work for them."
The busy summer included visits to Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Boston College, Maryland, Mississippi State and Arizona State in addition to an invitation to the Elite 11 quarterback camp in California last June, a week after he pledged to the Sun Devils.
Nearly six months later, Jones came calling.
"I think maybe their first day, they contacted me," Dobb said. "As a family we decided to save our official visits till January since it's really hard to take official visits during football season because it's really hectic. You don't get the full experience of getting there on Friday and everything."
Before Jones and the Vols could secure an official visit, they had to survive a grueling grilling at the in-home visit with Dobbs and his parents.
"It was basically make or break," Jones said on signing day. "They were going to make their decision based on the home visit if they were going to come to Knoxville and visit. I will give the Dobbs family credit: They're probably the most thorough family I have ever recruited.
"They did their research, and they did their homework."
Which meant no shortage of questions for Jones, Bajakian and recruiting coordinator and receivers coach Zach Azzanni said.
"It wasn't all grilling," Dobbs recalled, "but we definitely had our fair share of questions. This is of course a very hectic process and very important decision. As a family, we wanted to make sure we had all the questions answered before we made our decision.
"It wasn't necessarily we were putting their backs against the wall. It was a really good conversation and good discussion. You can tell that the coaching staff really has a great bond, and that definitely carries on to the team."
Dobbs took his official visit the final weekend of January, when he and Ridgeland High School star Vonn Bell were the only official visitors. The combination of Tennessee's facilities (both athletic and academic), new staff and tradition, particularly at quarterback, sold Dobbs on the Vols.
"It was really just once you added up everything, [you] realized the opportunity that Tennessee offered," he said.
"Persistence and selling what we have," Jones said when asked how Tennessee landed Dobbs. "It's the relationship business. The people in our engineering department did a tremendous job of selling him what we had and showing him -- that was a big hurdle."
Dobbs was impressed by Bajakian's presentation of the power spread offense he and Jones ran the past six seasons at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. A high school math teacher for two years before becoming a coach, Bajakian showed plays from his Cincinnati offense and compared them to what Dobbs ran at Alpharetta. The quarterback saw plenty of similarities.
An avid football watcher, Dobbs saw some of Jones' games at Cincinnati, but the meeting with Bajakian showed him how he'd fit into his future scheme.
"It's a lot of the same offense and same patterns," he said. "I really feel good about how I fit in the offense. From getting to watch film with Coach Bajakian and him incorporating my film into their film and seeing the concepts and the pattern and the lingo, I really feel comfortable with the offense that they're running."
A quick learner who claims he mastered his high school's offensive system in a day, Dobbs is a natural fit in a spread offensive style. It's been eight seasons (Brent Schaeffer in 2004) since Tennessee used a dual-threat quarterback. Dobbs, who said his best time he ran in the 40-yard dash was 4.6 seconds, has that added dimension recent Tennessee quarterbacks have lacked.
"I think he's got an unbelievable ceiling for development," ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said in a recent conference call. "In my opinion, I think he's one of the more undervalued guys in this class -- not just as an athlete, but as a passer. The reason Tennessee has gotten in on him is because of Butch Jones and the offensive identity that they're going to have.
"They're going to use the dynamic, dual-threat traits that Josh Dobbs brings to the table. I think in a spread offensive set where you're going to be in the shotgun, you want to have the quarterback part of the running game. He's a perfect marriage for what Butch Jones is going to do on offense."
That doesn't mean Dobbs will start the Vols' opener against Austin Peay in 188 days.
Between now and his arrival in Knoxville in June, he'll focus on baseball -- he's an all-state third baseman/shortstop and three-hole or cleanup hitter for the Raiders baseball team -- and learning the packets of Tennessee's offense as he receives them from the coaching staff. Aware of his need to add weight, Dobbs joked that the thick letter jacket he wore effectively hid his wiry 195-pound frame.
He's spent recent weekends throwing with Vols signee Ryan Jenkins, the receiver in nearby Marietta whom Dobbs has known since the sixth grade.
Dobbs said he didn't let Tennessee's quarterback depth chart affect his decision, but he knows Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman are already on campus and remembers Ferguson from the Elite 11 camp last summer.
"My goal of course is to compete from day one," Dobbs said. "I know they have great quarterbacks, and the quarterback in my class is a great player, so I know it's going to be a good competition. I'm really looking forward to it this summer."
Dukes raved about Dobbs' ability to make plays that don't seem possible and compared his on-field skill set to that of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham. Yet he knows from both his own playing career and the players he's sent to college while at Alpharetta that nothing comes easy. The scrutiny that comes with playing quarterback at an SEC program like Tennessee makes the transition a more daunting task.
"Josh knows this: I've always believed there are people who talk it and people who do it," Dukes said. "In the game of football, if you're a fraud, people will find out really quick. I think Josh is going to be the type of player that's going to go up there and his actions are going to speak much louder than any words."
That might cause a stir, too.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...