Sidelined Dobbins cheers his La Grange teammates, looks to Ohio State

La Grange senior JK Dobbins was still in severe pain in early September when he received a phone call from Ohio State University.

Urban Meyer was on the line.

The coach of the second-ranked Buckeyes was checking up on one of the most-valued members of his team’s next recruiting class. Dobbins, ranked by 247 Sports as the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose running back in the Class of 2017, plans to enroll at Ohio State in January.

Ezekiel Elliott made his mark with the Buckeyes before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. One coach has little doubt that Dobbins will join Elliott in the NFL someday.

“Coach Meyer said I was better than Zeke when he was my age,” Dobbins said.

The conversation between Meyer and his future player came roughly a week after Dobbins broke his right fibula and suffered a severely sprained ankle on the first play of La Grange’s season opener on Aug. 26 at Liberty Hill. The fracture required surgery, derailing a possible record-setting year for the 5-foot-10-inch, 200-pound Dobbins. It also sent shock waves through La Grange’s football team, which thrived in 2015 when Dobbins rushed for 2,740 yards and 35 touchdowns in 11 games.

“There was a grieving process (for Dobbins) after the injury happened,” said La Grange coach Matt Kates. “He worked his tail off in the summer.”

Without their five-star standout in the backfield, La Grange looked confused in September, losing three of its first four games. As November nears, Dobbins has learned to cope with his injury, and the Leopards are begining to play better, winning their first two games within District 10-4A, Division II.

Dobbins stays close to his teammates, encouraging them from the sidelines during every game.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “Maybe God was trying to prevent something even worse from happening to me.”

No surprise, La Grange (3-3) remains a work in progress on offense, averaging 19.3 points a game, down from last year’s figure of 34.6. Sophomore Jericho Haardt has done an admirable job as Dobbins’ replacement, rushing for 615 yards and four touchdowns, while quarterback Colter Siptak has run for 373 yards with three TDs.

A senior-laden defense led by linemen John Villasana and Cordale Ellison, linebacker Dalton Ward and safety Daven McKenzie has limited opponents to 19 points a game, down from last year’s mark of 23.3.

Dobbins could have shattered the Austin-area record for career rushing this season. He needed 2,010 yards yards to break Brock Fitzhenry’s mark of 7,158 yards. Instead, Dobbins now spends much of his time rehabilitating his right leg, preparing to join his Ohio State teammates in two months.

His goals for his freshman season?

“I’m going to do things that no one is expecting,” said Dobbins, who recently had his cast removed.

Dobbins said he has always been physically gifted, explaining that he began walking at nine months. He said he carries a 3.5 grade-point average at La Grange, adding that his mother, Mya, keeps him grounded.

“When I’d come home after scoring five touchdowns, she’d tell me my room was dirty,” he said.

At Ohio State, Dobbins likely will be compared to Elliott, who rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns as Carlos Hyde’s backup during his freshman season. A starter his final two years with the Buckeyes, Elliott finished his college career with 3,981 yards rushing — third on OSU’s career list — and 43 touchdowns.

So does Dobbins expect to become the next Ezekiel Elliott?

“No,” he said without hesitation. “I’m going to be the first JK Dobbins.”

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