This article was written by Jonathan Toye and originally appeared in The Daily Beacon on November 23, 2015. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
It’s 9 a.m. Joshua Dobbs is in the Anderson Training Center receiving treatment and sneaking in some breakfast. Afterwards, he fields questions from local media about the upcoming game that is five days away. Around noon, Dobbs makes the trek across campus to attend classes that last until 3 p.m. He then returns to the Anderson Training Center for football-related activities that go from 3 to 7:30 p.m. After football, Dobbs concludes his day by attending a one-hour study hall session.
“Mondays are pretty long days,” Dobbs said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Beacon.
The rest of the week, however, doesn’t get any shorter. The next morning, Tennessee’s starting quarterback
is up at 7:30 a.m. to study film.
It’s not the only thing he will study that week.
By now, every college football fan knows that Dobbs has a unique major for a student athlete. That He is an aerospace engineer major is discussed during the broadcast of nearly every televised Tennessee football game. It was one of the first things mentioned when he made his Tennessee debut in the second half against then top-ranked Alabama in 2013. His class schedule flashed across the screen during last season’s TaxSlayer Bowl. ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe sat in on one of his classes the Friday before the Oklahoma game.
But with all the acclaim and recognition also comes some major sacrifices.
Dobbs admits that he doesn’t have much time for extra-curricular activities. His only days off in the past six months came during fall break.
When Dobbs does enjoy free time, he is either sleeping or getting ahead on schoolwork.
“A lot of people who are around any engineers know that we spend a lot time in the library and a lot of time doing homework and stuff,” Dobbs said. “My roommates see me studying and people around me (see me too).
“It comes with (the major). Anyone who signed up for it kind of knew what they were getting into beforehand. It kind of comes with the duty that there is going to be a lot of work, but you are going to get a lot out of it.”
Dobbs is also undergoing his first season as the full-time starter. That means more responsibilities. That means more hits from defenders. That means more Sundays where he wakes up feeling sore. That means more interactions with the media — both on a local and national level.
The aforementioned factors threaten to divert his attention away from academics.
Dobbs, however, doesn’t allow football and aerospace engineering to intersect.
“My football life and school life are two separate things, so I kind of treat them like that,” Dobbs said. “What happens on the football field doesn’t affect me in the classroom and vice versa.
“At times there are going to be a lot of things to do or things to get accomplished, but it all comes with the job and what you chose to do with your life. I have just embraced it.”
Dobbs has embraced his role as the starting quarterback this season. He has led the Vols to a 6-4 record in 2015 — their best 10-game record since 2007. And while Dobbs wasn’t his best in Tennessee’s last game — an ugly 24-0 win against lowly North Texas — His special ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs has given Tennessee a chance to win every game in 2015.
His taste of success on the football field hasn’t hindered his focus in the classroom. Dobbs has to deal with soreness on a weekly basis, but he doesn’t let physical fatigue affect his concentration in class.
“I think it’s just type of a mindset,” Dobbs said. “Obviously you are going to get tired physically, but you just got to have a mindset of ‘You gotta get it done’ you know? I think it’s kind of a mindset thing. Each week is different based on work and the game and how it goes. It’s just taking it one day at a time and just working your way through it.
The mindset has paid dividends. The Vols scholars’ patch emblazoned on the upper-right side of Dobbs’ uniform indicates his GPA is at least a 3.0.
His teammates are impressed with his work ethic.
“He is the quarterback so he has to study a lot of football and everything,” freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. said, who is a finance major himself. “But he balances his schoolwork really well, so I try to bounce some things off of him, make sure I am staying on task as well.”
Added junior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin: “Even though he is an older guy, he is in Thornton (Center) a lot. He is always in study hall. He has his tutors. He is a guy that prepared for it throughout high school, through freshman year here. He is just able to handle it really well.
“A lot of people can’t do what he does.”
Dobbs’ secret to handling both the responsibilities of a starting quarterback in the SEC and the duties of an engineering student is simple: he doesn’t seem to mind stressful situations.
“There are always times that are stressful, you have a lot on your plate, but they are kind of fun,” Dobbs said. “Just to see how you are going to respond to them and how you are going to get what you need to do accomplished in a short amount of time.”
Stress affects all students — not just football players. The period before Thanksgiving break is an especially stressful time of the semester — as exams, papers and projects begin to pile up.
Diligent students camp in the library in an effort to finish the semester strong. The less diligent students worry about grades and lost scholarships.
Dobbs has a strong support system that has helped him cope with stress. His two parents push him to be his best and offer support when he needs it. Tennessee Sports Nutritionist Allison Maurer helps him maintain a healthy diet. Sleeping coaches ensure Dobbs is optimizing his sleep habits. Fellow engineering students give him notes from Friday classes that he missed due to traveling with the team.
His coach helps too, preaching a simple method to avoid stressful situations.
“It’s staying on top. It’s time management,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “It’s investing your time, but that’s a big part of it. It’s an important part of the semester. As the season progresses you cut back practice a little bit just because of the wear-and-tear on the body, but also with the academic workload as well.
“We are very cognizant of that, and we talk to them about that daily.”
Dobbs has no choice but to manage his time wisely. While Dobbs is probably enrolled in a number of time-consuming classes, just one of his classes sufficiently shows the commitment it takes to be an engineer.
Hunter Kinslow, junior in mechanical engineering, has a fluid mechanics class with Dobbs. Kinslow admits the class can be stressful: there are no homework assignments and the only grades in the class are three exams.
The three exams, then, are pretty important. And studying for them is no small task.
“There is a lot of pressure on those three grades defining your whole grade,” Kinslow said. “The tests are big. It is stressful, especially on test day.
“If you do not spend time keeping up with the materials and then you wait to learn weeks worth of material in a day, then it is very easy to fail.”
That’s why Dobbs doesn’t cram for exams. If he has an exam on Wednesday, he will start studying the previous Sunday.
“Obviously, everyone procrastinates,” Dobbs said. “I just try to get assignments started on a little bit, work through it piece by piece. Even if I put it off a little bit, it’s not like I am not starting from ground zero. I feel like I have done a good job with that: trying to study for tests early. (It’s) just the little things: doing my homework right when I get it rather than waiting to do it.
“There are times you don’t want to do anything.”
Dobbs’ parents made sure he learned time management at an early age.
Even now when Dobbs feels like taking an evening off, his parents are there to provide an extra push.
“They have been a big key and they stay on me still today about if I have a night where I want to rest or something,” Dobbs said. “They stay on me. They push me to get my work done early. It’s been really good to have them.
“They also support me if I need help with something or need help with a concept learning something or need some extra class materials to help my study. They are always there to give me the resources I need.”
Dobbs’ peers are another source of support in stressful times. Engineers in the same year typically have the same classes every semester. Dobbs, then, has become close friends with many of the students in the college of engineering.
When Dobbs misses class on Fridays before games, his colleagues make sure he doesn’t fall behind.
“I think there a lot of people Josh (Dobbs) can call on if he is not there for notes or if he didn’t get to pick up a homework sheet or something like that,” Kinslow said. “I know I grabbed a sheet for Josh (Dobbs) one day. People are definitely looking out for their quarterback. I think if he called on anyone of them for a favor or to catch up on notes or something like that, everyone is pretty willing.
“Josh is a guy. He is a 20-year-old just like us.”
During the interview, a group of people walks past Dobbs. He briefly nods at them. They are part of the SEC Network team. He will meet with them to discuss the North Texas game immediately after this interview.
It’s Friday. Normally the day where college students can take a break.
Not Dobbs. He has another loaded schedule of interviews and pregame walkthroughs.
He’s not complaining, though.
“I have really loved every moment of it.”