This fall, Joshua Dobbs, who’s an aerospace engineering student and the University of Tennessee’s star quarterback, started his final year of college and football.
Dobbs took some time out of his busy schedule to give an update on his classes, football, life, and his future.
Q: How do you feel about starting your last year of football and classes?
I am very excited to be in my final year of college and football. It’s crazy how fast time truly does fly. It feels like I just left Alpharetta High School.
Over my three years here at UT, it has been very rewarding to see the development, the progress, and the growth of our football program. When my teammates and I committed to the university, we all pledged that we were going to get Tennessee football back to where it should be. Picking up from our momentum at the end of the 2015 season, we are confident that we will do so.
I am so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had up until this point; yet, there is so much more that I hope to accomplish during my last year, both academically and athletically.
Q: What are your hopes and expectations for this football season and classes?
In the classroom, my expectations are to continue to excel and finish strong. It is an exciting semester for me because I am taking very specific aerospace engineering classes and will start my senior design project. My more technical classes include aerodynamic, astronautics, and propulsion, which involve core principles that I used firsthand during my two Pratt and Whitney internships over the last two summers.
On the football field, my goal is to pick up where we left off last season. We ended the year on a six game winning streak and are projected to do really well in the SEC. As a team, we are taking each game one week at a time; but, we expect to win each time we get on the field. So, my goal has been to stay focused in my preparation and to provide inspired leadership for the team.
Q: How have you grown as a person (mentally, physically, and spiritually) over the past 3 years?
I feel that over the past 3 years I have really grown in all aspects of my life—mentally, physically, and spiritually. Coming out of high school, I considered myself to be a pretty good multi-tasker, was always hyper-focused, and had set very specific personal goals. So, even though I had been preparing for and expected to face challenges once I got to college, I quickly found out that nothing could really adequately prepare me for the transition, and how demanding it is to juggle the academic workload and play football in college. I had to rely heavily on my faith, and am so grateful my parents equipped me with a sound spiritual foundation. No matter how hectic my schedule becomes or how difficult a situation gets, I can find peace and encouragement in my faith.
Another area of growth that has been really beneficial has been me understanding the value of surrounding myself with like-minded people, and having great roommates, teammates, and friends, who have similar goals and aspirations as I do. We support and challenge each other to stay focused on our goals and to make good choices.
I have also been blessed to build relationships with some great mentors. I can drop by their offices or call them to talk, ask questions, or get advice. People like our VFL Coordinator Antone Davis; Assistant Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Relations and Letterman and UT legion Condredge Holloway; future hall of famer Peyton Manning; and MABE Department Matthew Mench. They have all been great sources of encouragement and balance for me.
Physically, with the help of our strength and conditioning staff, trainers, and nutritionists, I’ve added good muscle bulk each year. I’ve learned how to take better care of my body, knowing which drills are the most helpful, and making good choices about how I rest and what I eat.
Q: Last year you flirted with playing baseball in the spring. Are there any plans to play baseball this spring?
Yes, I did workout with the baseball team and strongly considered playing last spring. However, when I sat down with head baseball Coach Dave Serrano to evaluate my academic load, the spring football camp schedule, the baseball schedule, as well as, conflicts during the month of May with my internship, we agreed that it was going to be too difficult to pull it off. Since I committed to Tennessee in high school, Coach Serrano has graciously kept the door open for me to come out for the baseball team. I am extremely appreciative to have that opportunity, and Coach Jones’ support as well. With everything that is going on this fall, I have not had time to think about baseball for the upcoming season. Once our football season ends, I’ll re-evaluate the situation and meet Coach Serrano to discuss options.
Q: Do you ever think about the possibility of coaching at all in the future?
Over the years, I have served as a college counselor at several football/quarterback camps. Last summer, I volunteered at the QB Summit in Dana Point, CA, the Elite 11 Finals in Beaverton, OR, and the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodeaux, LA. I also worked at multiple UT football camps held on campus. I really enjoy working with young players because it not only gives me an opportunity to teach and mentor others, but it also allows me to continue to work on my own skills as well. Teaching and communicating technique to young players force you to self-assess and make sure you are also using the correct techniques that you are trying to teach. I can definitely see how rewarding coaching others can be. I would never say never, but right now I don’t see myself coaching as a profession because of my long term goals in aerospace engineering.
Q: Tell us about your latest internship experience in Canada.
Over the summer, I had a great opportunity to travel and immerse myself into a foreign city and its culture while working and learning at the world’s leading engine manufacturer, Pratt and Whitney, Canada in Montréal, Quebec.
I was assigned to the development department. My projects and responsibilities involved collaborating with sectional engineers within the department to observe and evaluate the coordination of their engine development process. I spent several days rotating to several test stands, learning about various P&W engines (PT6, PW800, APS5000), and understanding the testing process of development engines; worked in the strain gauge and instrumentation labs to understand how different components of their engines are fitted with instrumentation devices; assisted in the tear down and build of PW100 series engines to evaluate the durability of the engine after accumulating intense run time; and was involved in rig tests, in which the efficiency of single components of the engines were tested.
While the most difficult challenge to overcome during the assignment was getting acclimated to the difference in languages used within the facility, it was the primary reason I wanted this internship. French is the official language of the Canadian Province of Québec. Fortunately, Montréal is one of the most bilingual cities in the province. Although I learned extensive Parisian French in high school, and most of the Montréalians spoke both French and English, it was sometimes difficult to communicate on a technical level with some of the test operators and build engineers. While both Metropolitan (Standard Parisian/European) and Québec (Canadian) French are rooted in early modern Classical French, the two are completely distinct versions of French. So, it really took patience and constant back and forth dialogue in both French and English to overcome this challenge and to understand each other.
I am eternally grateful to Pratt and Whitney’s internship program and my mentors who gave me the opportunity for this assignment and to challenge myself.
Q: Do you have any idea what you’ll be doing after graduation?
Once the football season ends, I will start pre-draft preparations for the NFL as I wrap up two final classes for my aerospace engineering degree in the spring semester. Based on the outcome of that process, I will weigh the opportunities to continue playing football, entering the aerospace engineering workforce at one of several companies, or possibly pursing a post-graduate degree.
Q: You’re a pretty “famous” person now. How does it feel to be recognized when you go out?
It is a very humbling experience to be recognized by so many people. I am amazed to see the influence I have and number of people I affect as the quarterback at the University of Tennessee.
As Coach Jones says “playing football for the University of Tennessee is a global position and you have to respect the power of the position.” I have definitely experienced this for myself. There are very few places that I can go in Knoxville and not be recognized. Fans want to say hello, get a picture, and sometimes share stories about how I may have helped to encourage or inspire their children. I feel blessed because I have had the opportunity to meet so many people that I otherwise wouldn’t have.
There have been times when I have been at the airport in Atlanta or another city and a fan will stop me to just shake my hand and wish the team success. In some cases, I’m left scratching my head at how they know me. Over the winter break, I flew to Texas to participate in a student summit. I arrived late, so it was dark outside when we left the airport. On the way to the hotel, we stopped at a drive-thru restaurant to pick up a quick bite to eat. I was wearing a cap and was sitting in the back seat of the rental car with a Texas license plate. As we pulled up to the pick-up window and I let the window down to pay for the food, someone in the car behind us yelled, “Hey, are you Josh Dobbs?” I have no idea how they recognized me.
Even when I was out of the country I was surprised. Last summer, while on my Canadian internship, I decided to drive from Montreal to Quebec City one weekend to do a little sightseeing. I was walking down the street looking at a map trying to find a landmark. As I approached the corner, a car, from the United States with Virginia tags, pulled up with a man and a women in it. The man leaned out the window and shouted, “Hey Josh! Go Vols!” I wasn’t wearing any TN gear. I didn’t even have on anything orange. I was speechless. Like I said, it is very humbling because in those moments you understand the power of the position. You realize that in all of those encounters, you are not only representing yourself or your family; but, you also represent your university and your team.
Q: You’re a very busy person, but you always seem to find time to do things like write a letter to a kid who admires you or surprise a little boy who has cancer. Why is making time for these things important to you?
Being a part of the football team at the University of Tennessee gives me a unique platform to impact people in our Knoxville community and even nationally. I know that there are a lot of people facing challenges or needing a little encouragement. So, making time to write a letter or to surprise someone in the hospital is really important to me. I enjoy being a positive influence and finding ways to help others.
Q: Tell us how you met AJ Cucksey and what that relationship means to you?
I have a very special friendship with AJ Cucksey, a little boy in the Knoxville community who is battling brain cancer. AJ was diagnosed with a form of pediatric cancer called pilocyctic astrocytoma that causes non-malignant tumors in the brain. He had multiple tumors located in difficult areas of his brain blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid and causing a buildup of fluid and pressure. AJ completed chemotherapy in December, 2015, however, the tumors are inoperable and he will possibly be affected by the condition for the rest of his life.
Our VFL Coordinator Antone Davis arranged for AJ and his dad to come by the Anderson Center to watch one of our practices in November, 2014. When I met him, I could immediately see he is a special kid. He was weak from his treatments and wheelchair bound, but he was smiling, singing, and so happy. Several weeks after his campus visit, I saw him on television doing an interview with one of the local stations. The reporter asked him who his favorite player was, and he said “Josh Dobbs.” I think he may have mentioned UT Legend Peyton Manning also, but all I heard was my name. It was so touching because I saw what a warrior he is.
UT Football sent him a large #14 jersey for the 2014 season with all of our signatures, after his visit at practice. I figured his parents would probably frame that one, so I started looking for a #11 jersey in his size. After searching for a few weeks, I finally found one that would fit a four-year-old. I was able to take it to him and spend some time with him at his home. He and I have been buddies ever since.
His parents are doing an outstanding job supporting and encouraging him. They created a Facebook page, Prayers for AJ Cucksey, asking people to send encouraging notes and prayers for AJ’s recovery.
I visited him last December, the day before we left for the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl, to get two of the “Prayers for AJ Cucksey” bracelets that his parents created. I wore both of them during our bowl game victory against Iowa and gave him one of them when we got back to Knoxville. I try to spend as much time I can with him because he is such an inspiration. No matter how sick or tired AJ gets from the treatments and the battle, he has the courage to keep smiling and singing. All he asks is we keep praying for him.
Q: It’s no secret that you have alopecia areata, but you have never really been asked about it or been given the opportunity to discuss the disease. I want to give you the opportunity to discuss it.
I was diagnosed with alopecia areata in elementary school when I noticed small patches of hair loss on my scalp. Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, which is where hair growth begins. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what triggers the immune system to attack the hair in this way.
After several visit to the dermatologist and topical treatments, we were able to get the symptoms under control and the hair grew back. For the most part, it remained dormant until I entered high school; but, it is highly unpredictable and cyclic. Hair can grow back in or fall out again at any time. Eventually, I started to lose hair in my eyebrows and scalp again. Then, over the last few years, the hair loss progressed, so I decided to just shave my head.
Fortunately, alopecia does not affect you as another condition might. It isn’t painful, doesn’t make you feel sick, and doesn’t result in serious health problems. On the other hand, your hair is a major part of your self-identity. So, certainly when you lose your hair, your self-image can be drastically altered. People have lots of questions, they stare, and they make comments when they see something out of the norm. I often have to explain the condition and clear up rumors.
When you’re in the media and often seen on camera, you’re prone to have more people discussing it, both positively and negatively. Sadly, there are a lot of keyboard bullies out there on social media who feel they can make offensive comments and jokes, while cowardly hiding behind the anonymity of their computer screens. Seeing “media personalities,” who are supposed to be professional, posting negative comments is probably the most disappointing.
Fortunately, the confidence my parents instilled in me and my strong Christian faith have helped me keep this small challenge in perspective. I’ve played competitive sports for so long. Needless to say, I learned early on that people can be critical of your performance and actions. I simply file criticism about my appearance into the same category. You see it and you get annoyed by it, but you don’t let it affect you. That’s what they want it to do. In their ignorance, they try to make you feel less about yourself at the expense of boosting their own ego or trying to make themselves feel better. In most cases, I just block out the negative.
I know that my identity and my worth as a human being is not based on whether I have hair or not. When I think about all of the people who struggle every day with debilitating or life-threatening diseases, for me losing a little hair falls pretty low on the totem pole. My lack of hair hasn’t prevented me from doing a single thing I have wanted to or will do in life.
Ironically, the same platform, that puts me in the position to receive the negativity, also allows me to positively impact others who may be affected by alopecia or some other challenge. It is really humbling and personally rewarding to have an opportunity to encourage a little kid who may be scared or insecure.