Charismatic Cobb UK's 'face of the program'

Cobb good player, better person

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 15, 2010 

UK Football

Randall Cobb, middle, smiled, as usual, when the UK football team photo was taken Aug. 6. People who know him say the Cats star is always upbeat.

CHARLES BERTRAM

Ask Randall Cobb what his biggest regrets are and the first thing that comes to his mind isn't a knee injury that caused him to miss the Liberty Bowl his freshman year or the bitter loss to Tennessee last year.

It's the fact that he didn't get to sign autographs for all of the kids at Kentucky's Fan Day last Saturday.

"I was really upset about it," Cobb said. "We had to get off the field, and I didn't get to sign for everybody. I don't want kids to think, 'He forgot about me,' or 'He's too big to sign autographs.' I still remember a time when I went to a Tennessee game and I was waiting outside for the players and one player skipped over me. He signed for the guy to the left of me and to the right of me. That was something that stuck with me."

Cobb is so good on the football field that he'd be forgiven for not signing an autograph or two. But that's Randall Cobb in a nutshell. He doesn't necessarily have to be a good guy; he just is.

He always says the right things in interviews. He always takes time to chat with fans. He's a good student with no off-the-field issues. He faithfully attends games played by UK's non-revenue sports teams.

In other words, Randall Cobb is a perfect "face of the program" kind of guy.

"Certain people who have taken reins of leadership have the ability to be the face of your football program, and a great face of the university, and Randall has that look," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "He has great ability on the football field, great charisma off the field, and great intelligence in the classroom. He gets it.

"But with all those gifts comes a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility. People expect a lot of him both competitively and personally, and he doesn't want to disappoint. But pleasing everyone is not easy."

UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders noticed Cobb's intangibles as soon as he started recruiting him right out of the University of Tennessee's backyard in Alcoa.

"I came back and told the coaches he could be captain of the team someday," Sanders recalled. "He had that type of personality, that type of charisma. And he was the type of person who went out there and backed it up. Being a leader wasn't something he had to work real hard at. He does the right things off the field. He sets the right example. It was natural."

UK Coach Rich Brooks got a whiff of Cobb's competitive spirit during his official visit, when Cobb became the first recruit to beat him at table tennis in his five years at Kentucky. Cobb was also the two-time defending champion in the team's cornhole tournament before relinquishing the throne to Taylor Wyndham this summer.

Cobb's on-field successes have been well-documented. He earned All-Southeastern Conference honors as a sophomore and has already scored four game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter in his career.

"I don't think it would matter if it was on the football field, ping pong, cornhole, or at the pool table," Sanders said. "He's just a unique kind of competitor. He's the kind of kid that you can introduce him to a game, then he'll mess around with it for a while, and before too long he's figured out a way to beat you."

Gary Rankin, who coached Cobb at Alcoa High, remembers when Cobb, who led the school to two straight state titles at quarterback, threw a key interception in a playoff game.

"Once he got to the guy who picked it off, it was one of the hardest collisions I've ever seen," Rankin said. "When he did something wrong, which was rare, he always seemed to get it fixed."

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips has said repeatedly that Cobb has the "it" factor, although he's at a loss for words to describe what the "it" factor is.

"Nobody's been really able to define 'it,' but he has it," Phillips said. "I think it's just a guy who understands how to get things done. Anything you put in front of him, you can get it done. He's really a polished guy; he understands the business aspect of this game, and how to relate to people. He has everything you're looking for in a college athlete."

Cobb said his personality was shaped from observing the different figures that have been in and out of his life.

"When I was a kid, I didn't talk much," Cobb said. "I sat around and listened and learned. Every person I'd meet, I'd take something from them and try to learn something from them, and I just put it all together. That's really the makeup of me and how I became myself."

Cobb isn't perfect. He's had failures on the field, and said he's had failures in his personal life as well. But Cobb, who can be personable yet extremely cautious and guarded while answering questions, isn't the type to disclose his personal failures.

"I've had a lot of things go wrong in my life, but I can't express those things to other people," he said. "I have to lift people up. Whatever I'm going through, I can handle it. No matter how bad my day's going, there's somebody out there who's got it worse."

Cobb put those words in action before last year's Music City Bowl, when he shaved his head in honor of Bradley Wilson, a 13-year-old leukemia patient.

Rankin, his high school coach, said Cobb is as good a combination student-athlete/person as he's seen in 30 years of coaching.

"The highest compliment I could give is that when my son grows up, I want him to be like Randall Cobb," Rankin said. "As a person, not a player."

"He came to my son's birthday party. He's the type of guy who just shows up for things. And it's not for show or for 'What am I going to get out of this?' He's just one of the good guys the Lord put on this Earth."

UK freshman tight end Tyler Robinson, an Alcoa native, said Cobb was a big reason he landed in Lexington.

"He's a local hero, a hometown hero," Robinson said. "Everybody knows who he is, every time somebody talks to me they ask me how Randall's doing. He's just so humble; he's a role model to me. That's one of the reasons I came to Kentucky, to be like him. When he was a senior, I was a sophomore. He'd walk down the halls, talking to everybody, high-fiving people. He didn't have a big head at all. He's just an all-around good person."

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