He’s too small.
It’ll never happen.
At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Randall Cobb simply wasn’t big enough to play quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. He possessed serious power in a rocket left arm. He was so very quick.
Then the University of Kentucky gave him a shot.
Then, in his first start for the Wildcats last month, he made history.
In leading Kentucky to a 14-13 win at Mississippi State early last month, the former Alcoa High School star became the first true freshman to start at quarterback and direct the Wildcats to a SEC road win. A Mr. Football winner his senior at Alcoa a year ago, Cobb now ranks near the top in every Kentucky offensive statistic.
Last Saturday wasn’t a happy return to East Tennessee for Cobb and Kentucky receiver Kyrus Lanxter, also a former Tornado. The University of Tennessee was celebrating Phillip Fulmer Day, with the 17-year coach directing the Vols for the last time before stepping down.
Tennessee roused itself in the second half en route to what proved a convincing, 28-10 win, extending its dominance over Kentucky to 24 consecutive games. It’s the loss, not returning home as the starting quarterback for a major college football team, he’ll remember, Cobb said.
“It’s hard because a lot of people thought this was our year,” he said.
Lanxter echoed the sentiment.
“Everybody (other SEC schools) was helping us out today,” Lanxter said. “We wanted to win the game to get a better bowl game.
“They (the Vols) were playing with a lot of emotion, wanting to win for coach Fulmer, and we couldn’t match it.”
The loss did little to dim what Cobb has meant to the Wildcats this season, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. On the one hand, there’s Cobb the football player.
“He’s a great athlete,” Brooks said. “He’s a winner.”
More than that was the leader the true freshman became this fall.
“He’s a great young man,” Brooks said. “He’s a stud. I wish we had some help for him.”
Cobb got the Wildcats off to strong start on a soggy, fog-shrouded night. On Kentucky’s first play from scrimmage, the former Tornado darted 12 yards off left tackle for a Wildcat first down. Later in the drive, he would hit Lanxter for 3 yards for his first completion of the night.
The drive wouldn’t end with points, but the next one did, with Cobb directing Kentucky 44 yards in six plays to set up a Lonas Seiber 40-yard field goal. The resulting 3-0 lead would stand until the final play of the half.
Jonathan Crompton, Cobb’s Tennessee counterpart, converted on a 1-yard sneak as time expired in the half to give the Vols a 7-3 lead they would never relinquish.
It was Cobb who’d been the dominant player for a half, though. He had 35 yards rushing on four carries after a quarter, adding 15 yards on 3-of-5 passing. Crompton, by comparison, finished 2-of-2 for 8 yards after a quarter. Problematic for the Wildcats was Cobb’s passing numbers wouldn’t change in the second quarter as Crompton began to heat up.
Kentucky, as a consequence, struggled to move the ball. It would be Cobb’s legs or nothing, Brooks said. Whether at quarterback or receiver, where the former the Alcoa speedster spent the first few games this fall, it’s been that way all season.
“We put it all on his shoulders, and it made it very difficult,” Brooks said.
Early in the third, Cobb suffered a cartilage injury to his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday. His status for Kentucky’s upcoming bowl game is listed as doubtful, Brooks stated in a Tuesday release. Backup Mike Hartline finished the game for Kentucky at quarterback against the Vols as Tennessee surged in the second half to pull away.
Cobb entered the Tennessee game on the heels of a season-best passing day two weeks prior, throwing for 144 yards — adding 72 yards rushing and a touchdown — in a 31-24 loss to Vanderbilt. He started the last four games for the Wildcats at quarterback, his brightest moment coming in a two-touchdown performance — one rushing, one receiving — in the win at Mississippi State.
For the season, Cobb completed 52 of his 99 passes for 542 yards and five touchdowns. He tacked on 316 yards and seven scores rushing, catching 21 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns during his stint at receiver earlier this season.
Most notable, Cobb also returned punts for the Wildcats this season. Not even Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow does that!
For the season, Cobb trails only senior tailback Tony Dixon in rushing, 341-316, with Cobb ranking third among Kentucky receivers. Hartline holds a substantial lead in the passing totals on the strength of nearly 200 more throws.
If only the Wildcats had been able to supply Cobb with some weapons to work with, Brooks said.
“His play at quarterback would have been much better,” he said.
Quarterback, receiver, rushing leader, returning punts, the where he played never mattered, Cobb said. All he wanted was a chance to showcase his talents. The same could be said of two other former Blount County prep stars in action last Saturday.
After earning freshman All-American honors at Florida State, sophomore tight end Brandon Warren would catch 10 passes for 85 yards and no scores in his first season at Tennessee. He would catch one pass for 6 yards on Saturday. It would prove a long and frustrating season for former Mr. Football from Alcoa, a one-time teammate of Cobb and Lanxter.
Former Maryville High receiving record holder Tyler Maples had an even tougher go of it, the former Mr. Football going his entire redshirt freshman season at Tennessee without taking a snap. Former Rebel tight end and 2007 Mr. Football Aaron Douglas took a medical redshirt earlier this season after surgery.
All five Blount Countians are hopeful of having a bigger impact on the outcome next season in Lexington, Ky.
There were many who once told Cobb it just wasn’t going to happen.