Cobb embraces role as ‘face’ of Kentucky football

The competitor in Randall Cobb was evident early.

The Kentucky receiver’s video game battles with his older

brother lasted well past Cobb’s bedtime when the siblings were

growing up in eastern Tennessee.

Night after night they played John Madden football. Each time

Cobb lost – which was usually – Cobb would mash the reset

button.

”I wouldn’t quit until I beat him,” said the junior wide

receiver said. ”Some days, it took a loooong time.”

Cobb hates to lose. He is obsessed with it, actually.

”He’s the kind of guy, it doesn’t matter if it’s horseshoes,

he’s going to find a way to beat you,” said offensive coordinator

Randy Sanders. ”If he’s got to throw five ringers to win, he’ll do

it.”

It’s a mentality that has paid off well at a school where

consistent success has been elusive. That’s slowly changing, and

Cobb has been tasked with helping the Wildcats continue their move

toward respectability in the tough Southeastern Conference.

”This is his team, period,” said coach Joker Phillips. ”This

is his football team. He’s the guy that makes us go. He’s the

heartbeat.”

Cobb scored 15 touchdowns last season despite being the only

reliable offensive threat. Easily the team’s best receiver, he led

Kentucky’s otherwise anemic passing offense with 39 catches and

four touchdowns.

He was even better lining up in the backfield as part of the

”WildCobb” package, scoring 10 times despite little suspense

about what would happen when the ball is snapped. Cobb took over

110 snaps out of the WildCobb last year and threw it just 13

times.

All that running, however, took a toll.

Listed generously at 5-feet-11 and 186 pounds, Cobb’s body began

to betray him as the touches mounted. He practiced little toward

the end of the season, and Cobb found himself a bystander in

pressure situations because he was out of gas.

None were more obvious – or more painful – than in the season

finale against Tennessee. Trailing by a field goal with less than 2

minutes left, Cobb led the Wildcats to the Tennessee 10 with a

chance to end Kentucky’s miserable 24-year losing streak to the

Volunteers.

Then, he disappeared.

Instead, it was freshman quarterback Morgan Newton who tried to

get the final 30 feet to the end zone. It didn’t happen. Kentucky

settled for a field goal. Tennessee won in overtime.

The lesson learned was simple: For all of Cobb’s talent,

Kentucky’s offensive gameplan needs to expand beyond putting the

ball in his hands and letting him do his thing.

It’s a notion that frustrates the competitor in Cobb, but one

that soothes the teammate in him.

”You want to see your teammates do well,” Cobb said. ”I want

the ball, sure. But I know there’s plenty of talent here to do

special things.”

Sanders says, however, that he’s not going to put a limit on

Cobb’s involvement. Some games it may take 20 touches. Some games

it might take just 10.

”We’re not going to set out there and say, ‘Well, he’s had

so-and-so catches, he’s done,”’ Sanders said. ”We want to win

games and we know we need Randall out there.”

They also need him to not to be the best quarterback on the

team. The Wildcats named Mike Hartline the starter on Monday,

hoping he can finally take ahold of the position after two

injury-plagued years.

Cobb is easily the better athlete, though he jokes he’s done so

much weightlifting trying to get his arms big enough to give him

the push he needs to get off the line of scrimmage that he can’t

throw anymore.

”Those days are over,” he said with a laugh.

He views himself as a receiver now. He thinks he can be a good

one. Receivers coach Tee Martin has helped Cobb learn the nuances

of route-running. There’s more to it, it turns out, than counting

your strides and turning for the ball.

All of which is fine by Cobb. He knows if he’s going to make it

at the next level, it will be as a receiver or a kick returner. The

days of dreaming of throwing touchdown passes in the NFL have been

replaced by dreams of catching them.

Though Cobb allows he’s being pestered by friends and family

about his future after this season, he’s got more pressing

concerns: Getting Kentucky to a bowl game for a fifth straight

season chief among them.

Cobb been urged by Phillips to become more of a vocal leader. He

tried it as a freshman when injures forced him into the starting

quarterback role.

On a veteran squad, however, the youngster was tuned out and he

backed off and let his play do the talking. That’s not enough these

days.

Cobb is fine with it. So long as the Wildcats win.

”If I have to talk, I’ll talk,” he said. ”Coach talks about

me being the face of the team. I just see it like I’m the guy

representing all of us. We’ve got talent and people need to start

realizing it.”