Hurricane relief comes in many forms.
Wednesday morning Ohio State announced its football program was donating $10,000 to the American Red Cross fund for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief.
Thursday night in Bloomington, the Buckeyes followed that up with an 18-year-old burst of sunshine at running back who may have done just about as much for some folks in Texas as did that gift of 10 grand.
“I probably am the only positive thing going on in my town right now,” said J.K. Dobbins, who, in his first college game, set the all-time rushing record for an OSU freshman’s debut, running 29 times for 181 yards and lifting the Bucks to a 49-21 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers in the season opener at Memorial Stadium.
“I just thought of it as bringing my city up,” he said. “So that’s why I came out and played as hard as I could. I kind of thought of it as motivation for me.”
»PHOTOS: Ohio State vs. Indiana
Dobbins is from LaGrange, Texas, which is about 100 miles west of Houston.
Hit by heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey, parts of the city were under a mandatory evacuation order after the Colorado River overflowed its banks, rising 54 feet to its highest mark in more than a century.
Although he said his immediate family members weren’t forced to leave their homes, Dobbins said many of his friends had to flee.
While he figures he might have given some homefolks a lift, all the other Buckeyes had no doubt he had given them the boost they needed to overpower the Hoosiers, who still led 21-20 late in the third quarter.
Dobbins is listed as the backup to sophomore Mike Weber, who ran for 1,096 yards last season but has been hampered by a hamstring problem in fall camp.
When it became evident early this week that Weber wasn’t fully healthy, Dobbins was given the start.
That made him the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Buckeyes since Maurice Clarett did in 2002. By the time the night was over, Dobbins had eclipsed Clarett’s first-game rushing mark by six yards.
Dobbins mixes breakaway speed – he’s been clocked at 10.75 seconds in the 100 meter dash – with quick burst cutbacks and you sense everybody on the Buckeye sidelines knows they have something special in him.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he was “not surprised at all” by Dobbins debut:
“I kind of tempered my emotions with you (media) guys early on because we have seen that since spring practice. He has had a hell of a camp. We get Mike back next week and that’s going to be a nice one-two punch.
“And J.K. has even more in the tank. I don’t think he had a big hit today. His long was only 35 yards.”
Meyer said that like it was an underachievement.
He’s so impressed by the kid that when a post-game questioner compared Dobbins to Ezekiel Elliott, the former Buckeye who is now the NFL sensation with the Dallas Cowboys, he didn’t shut the guy down for overblown hype.
He said Dobbins’ approach to practice is “very similar to Zeke. He handles his business like a pro. He walked in like a grown man.”
The amazing thing is that Thursday night was Dobbins’ only full game in two seasons. He missed all of last year when he suffered a leg injury on the very first play of the season opener at LaGrange High.
Against the Hoosiers he seemed to return to the form he’d shown as a high school junior when he rushed for 2,740 yards and 35 touchdowns.
“I felt like I was gonna do the things I did tonight,” Dobbins said after the game. “I practice against the best defense in college football every day. And I’ve got a great offensive line. Billy (Price) is an All American and there are all the guys around him. I kinda felt I was gonna do what I did.”
Before the game, Price – the Buckeyes 6-foot-4, 312-pound senior center, said he gave Dobbins some advice:
“He’s my dog. I told J.K., ‘You know what butt to follow out there.’”
Price compared him to other top OSU backs – Carlos Hyde, Elliot and Weber – in the way he draws the defender to the offensive lineman so he is easier to block.
“And he’s only 18,” Price marveled.
Yet the veteran lineman admitted there was one moment in the game when Dobbins still acted like a kid. It came late in the game when he was involved in some extracurricular yapping and shoving with a Hoosier defender after a play.
“Yeah, he had a moment,” Price said. “You get caught up in the game itself and I told him ‘just make sure you flip the ball to the ref. Act like you’ve done it before. Don’t get caught up and get jawing with another player. Just get ready to play another play. That’s the Ohio State way.’
“And he looked me in the eye like a grown man and said, ‘Yes, Absolutely. Here we go,’’”
The way Dobbins ran and responded to his teammates made some wonder if he had leap-frogged Weber as the starter going into next Saturday’s game against Oklahoma.
Meyer was asked afterward if he had gone into the dressing room after the game and “Shared the Wally Pipp story with the guys?”
Pipp was the New York Yankees first baseman who, according to popular legend, sat out a game in 1925 because he had a headache.
A young Lou Gehrig took his place that day and went on to play 2,130 consecutive games at the position.
Meyer shook his head and laughed at the suggestion:
“If I walked in that locker room and said, ‘Wally Pipp,’ they’d look at me like I have nine heads! How many players you think know that?”
The answer is probably none.
But all of the Buckeyes seem to sense they have a star in their midst.
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