CHICAGO — David Cobb is loose, flexible and funny. At least that’s how Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill describes Cobb off the football field.
Cobb, a senior, also is durable, tough and persistent, and those virtues showed up every day the running back puts on his Gopher uniform. Cobb hails from Killeen, Texas and had to learn about suffering through Upper Midwest winters on his voyage to Minneapolis. He also had to acquire patience and rely on his Christian faith. But through the trials of culture shock and sitting on the bench, Cobb recognized his opportunity, and he took advantage of it.
Donnell Kirkwood began the 2013 season as Minnesota’s featured running back but injured his ankle in the season opener against UNLV. Kirkwood’s backup, Berkley Edwards, was out that day with a high ankle sprain. That left Cobb as the next-best option.
Cobb, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 229 pounds, carried six times for 69 yards that day. He split carries with Roderick Williams the following week against New Mexico State and through the next four games. Then with the Gophers’ season in the balance, the coaching staff turned to Cobb.
Minnesota sat at 4-2 with a paid of blowout losses to Iowa and Michigan. Kill was on a leave of absence to control his epilepsy. With a floundering passing game, Minnesota adapted its emphasis to the run. Cobb was the beneficiary.
In a win against Northwestern, Cobb rushed for 103 yards in his first career start. Minnesota pounded Nebraska for 271 yards on 54 carries with Cobb carrying 31 for 138. At Indiana, Cobb rushed for 188 yards and he had 139 at home against Penn State. Cobb’s performances vaulted the Gophers to their first four-game Big Ten winning streak since 1973.
“Sometimes when you get your opportunity, you take advantage of it,” Kill said. “He took off. The biggest thing that happened to him is he had some success early and gained confidence. When you gain confidence, you think you’re pretty good. So I think that’s pretty much what happened.”
But it wasn’t easy, either. Cobb was a late recruit for Kill and he played sparingly as a freshman (10 carries) and a sophomore (one carry). He entered last season third on the depth chart, surpassed by a true freshman in Edwards (who subsequently red-shirted). Still, Cobb kept working until he gained his opportunity.
“The biggest thing for me — and I credit the coaches — is sticking with me,” Cobb said. “Not being from Minnesota and being from Texas, you have to lean on your faith and not your understanding. Sometimes it’s hard.
“Being a 19-, 18-year-old kid from the high times in high school coming to college just sitting in your dorm room and you hear the negative talk. ‘Man, you should be playing.’ It challenges you, it truly does challenge you. But I credit that guy right there, Coach Kill, for staying on me from day one.”
Kill has the least pretentious personality of any football coach. He grew up tough in southwest Kansas and carries himself more like a factory foreman than a CEO of a high-profile operation. He was firm but fair with Cobb.
“It’s, ‘Hey Cobb, do this better.’ Or, ‘Hey Cobb, do this faster,’” Cobb recalled. “As a young kid you’re like, ‘Hey coach, leave me alone.’ He’s always on me. But I respect him so much for always pushing me.
“Tough love. It’s tough love in front of my teammates, in front of my friends. A 19-year old kid, you want to be cool. He’s embarrassing me, he’s ripping me in front of the team and I’m like, ‘He always does this, he always embarrasses me.’ But I see now, he gives me a smirk. I definitely understand.”
Cobb finished with 1,267 rushing yards, ranking 12th in Minnesota history. He finished seventh in Big Ten rushing and his 237 carries were the 10th-most by a Gopher. He had six games of 100-plus rushing yards, the program’s high since Laurence Maroney in 2003. Cobb also had just seven starts.
“I’d have to say he’s the best player in the Big Ten,” Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “A very exciting player. You hand the ball off to him, you never know what’s going to happen. If he’s going to break it for a touchdown. Is he’s going to get a first down. You never really know because he’s just a great player, an explosive player.”
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