It is a rarity.
Occasionally, a player with superior athletic ability comes through the ranks and gives fans an opportunity to gawk at his raw talent.
Sometimes, the athlete is a prima donna, interested only in himself and his future. The athlete could care less about the team, his teammates, or how the team does.
Often, inexperienced coaches, or those who are too set in their ways, can’t get the maximum performance and production out of the star athlete.
But then every so often, there is the special fusion of a unique athlete with a great coach – a coach unafraid to throw caution to the wind and able to fully utilize the rare capabilities of his star.
The results can be magical – much as they have been this season for the 2A Mr. Football Back of the Year and BlueCross Bowl Offensive Most Valuable Player Randall Cobb.
The Alcoa quarterback teamed with head coach Gary Rankin, a former EA Sports National Coach of the Year, for the first time last season. Rankin, the 2007 National High School Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year, now has 289 career victories.
Rankin has done nothing in his first two seasons at Alcoa but lead the Tornadoes to back-to-back state championships.
Rankin, who left 5A Riverdale High School after four state championships and five runners-up, inherited a program that was losing not only its head coach but also three Division I players at the skill positions. While that might be a feasible task at a 5A powerhouse, Alcoa draws from a student body of only 500.
Instead of rebuilding, Rankin molded the offense around Cobb and last year’s senior class, which included Kyrus Lanxter, who now sports the royal blue of Kentucky, and Chris Shiverdecker, who now wears a Carson-Newman uniform.
This year, the offense revolved around Cobb. The offensive line and senior running back Troy Hodge helped to alleviate pressure, but the dual-threat Cobb was obviously the Tornadoes weapon of choice.
With the innovative and creative play calling of Rankin, which included whatever needed to properly utilize his star, Cobb was often able to wow and amaze those in attendance at each game, and, as was the case of the championship game, those watching on television.
Cobb twists; he turns; he spins; he shakes; he jukes; he cuts, and, the most common result this season, he baffles defenders.
“He’s incredible,” senior lineman Seth Coulter said. “If we miss a block or something, he can pick us up and make a defender miss.”
Cobb’s ability to change direction often allows him to mystify defenders, much to the delight of Tornado fans. What many fans are unable to see, though, is Cobb’s vision.
When the left-hander drops to pass, he scans both the defense and his receivers before selecting his best option. When he runs, Cobb’s eyes are those of a caged catamount, always searching for the path to freedom.
During a play, his eyes never rest. He uses them to set up and manipulate opposing players. He may key in on one defender but turn his attention to the next before making his move on the first. He has the confidence in his ability that he will make the first player miss.
Cobb, however, won’t take credit for all of the glory.
“He is one of the most humble kids I’ve coached,” Rankin said. “There is never a ‘me moment’ with Randall.”
Cobb is always one of the first to thank his offensive line and everyone around him in a post-game interview, but it is his head coach who he credits the most.
“I can’t describe how great he is,” Cobb said. “He is always putting us in the right positions and making other teams look bad.”
“I swear; he is a genius,” he said. “He sets up the defense so well. It’s almost like he is in the huddle calling their plays.”
Cobb will graduate in the spring and go on to larger things as a Division I athlete, but, if he had the chance, he’d take Rankin along.
“I wish I had another two years with him,” Cobb said.
Rankin offers the same sentiment.