When they were growing up in southwestern Mississippi, Gophers running back David Cobb and linebacker Damien Wilson dreamed of playing for nearby Louisiana State.
It was only a dream at first, but Cobb distinctly remembers the moment when the two first cousins made it their mission to play college football.
“We were in fourth grade, and we were at the vending machine, and the number said D1,” Cobb said. “And we said, ‘We want to be D-I players.’ Time went on and we ended up playing at the same spot. We talk about how much of a blessing that is.”
Cobb’s family moved from Mississippi to Texas, when his father, Caesar, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, transferred to Fort Hood. Cobb rushed for nearly 3,000 yards at Ellison High School in Killeen, Texas, before coming to Minnesota.
Once he arrived, Gophers coaches could see he had the talent to be their best running back. He waited two years for his chance. Now that he’s got it, he’s not letting go.
After rushing for 57 yards as a freshman and only 8 yards as a sophomore, Cobb is the team’s leading rusher as a junior, with 477 yards and counting.
Cobb carried 20 times for 103 yards in last week’s victory over Northwestern, and the Gophers are counting on that success to continue Saturday against a Nebraska team that has been susceptible against the run.
Cobb picked the right year to have a breakthrough season. In his old role, he would have been sitting in his new roommate’s shadow.
Wilson transferred to the Gophers last winter from Jones County (Miss.) Community College. He stepped right in as the Gophers’ starting middle linebacker and leads this year’s team with 43 tackles.
“We’re roommates, so we do pretty much everything together,” Cobb said. “When he’s having a tough day, I can lift him up, and when I’m having a tough day, he can lift me up.”
Cobb had a lot of tough days in his first two years with the Gophers. Despite his running talent, he struggled with the mental side of the game. Now his game is more refined.
When he fumbled on his first carry at Northwestern last week, it was his first fumble of the season, and fortunately for the Gophers, right tackle Josh Campion made the recovery. The coaching staff showed its faith in Cobb the rest of the game, especially in the fourth quarter, when they wanted to keep the ball on the ground and run out the clock.
“We all enjoy winning because that’s the only way we’re going to keep our jobs,” acting head coach Tracy Claeys said. “And when it comes down to those last drives, you put the people in there you trust the most. So he was the one who was in there, and we felt the best with him carrying the football.”
Sophomore running back Rodrick Williams suffered a foot injury this week, so the Gophers might rely exclusively on Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood at tailback against the Cornhuskers.
Cobb has averaged 5.4 yards per carry this year, compared to 2.3 for Kirkwood, who led the team with 926 rushing yards last year but sprained an ankle in this year’s season opener.
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the 5-11, 225-pound Cobb has grown by “leaps and bounds” mentally over the last year.
“The physical part was there, and now he’s putting the other parts together,” Limegrover said. “He’s a dependable kid. I feel like we can count on him. He can be out there for all three downs. We don’t have to take him out if he’s going to be blocking.”