Back home in Tennessee, former Kentucky football standout Randall Cobb, has a speaking engagement in Knoxville on Thursday that prompted one sports columnist to ponder what might have been if the Green Bay Packers wide receiver had stayed home with the Volunteers instead of signing with the Cats.
"Cobb will forever be remembered at UT as the 'recruit that got away.'" the Knoxville News-Sentinel's John Adams wrote in a column published Thursday. "UT’s failure to recruit a player who grew up a Vols fan was magnified by what happened after Cobb joined the Wildcats. Tennessee became a losing program, and Cobb became an outstanding SEC player."
Cobb, a local hero in Tennessee who was part of four state titles at Alcoa High School, played for the Wildcats as a dual-threat quarterback, receiver and punt returner from 2008 to 2010, amassing 424 rushing yards, 1,017 receiving yards and 736 return yards in his final season before being drafted by the Packers in the second round in 2011.
Kentucky went 7-6, 7-6 and 6-7 his three years in Lexington and made bowl appearances each of those seasons, two under head coach Rich Brooks, who retired his sophomore year, and one under his successor, Joker Phillips. Cobb proved to be a sensation at quarterback and receiver his freshman season, amping up the speculation that year of what could have been.
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"It's time to let that recruiting stuff go," Cobb said ahead of UK's 2008 trip to Tennessee. "We're too far into it to start talking about recruiting. That's nothing to me anymore. I'm a Kentucky Wildcat. Once I signed those papers, it was over. There are no hard feelings."
Tennessee, under pressure in what would be coach Phillip Fulmer's final season, stymied Cobb that week and extended the Vols wins streak to 24 over the Cats.
But while Tennessee got the better of Kentucky in each of their head-to-head matchups while Cobb was at UK, it endured two losing seasons and had three different coaches during the same span (5-7, 7-6, 6-7) , including a 2009 season under Lane Kiffin where Adams believes Cobb's speed and versatility could have made a key difference for the Vols in four close losses that sent them on the way to a 7-6 mark that year.
Cobb, who has been on the youth camp circuit and is expecting a child in August with his wife, Aiyada, is entering the final year of a four-year $40 million deal with the Packers. He was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame last year.