Reggie Cobb: From Central casting to stardom

Getting paid to watch college football a trade-off for travel

Reggie Cobb runs against Duke in 1989 at Neyland Stadium.

Reggie Cobb runs against Duke in 1989 at Neyland Stadium.

Reggie Cobb's football career was once measured in yards. It's more about miles now.

He goes from one time zone to another the way some businessmen drive across town. Fly from Houston to San Diego, pick up a car and drive to Phoenix: All in a day's work for the San Francisco 49ers scout. And he's not complaining.

"I get paid to watch college football," the former Tennessee running back said with a laugh. "Something I would be doing anyway on Saturday."

A football career that began at Central High School has taken Cobb all over the country and into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. He's one of the 10 new inductees who will be honored July 28 at the Knoxville Convention Center.

His hall of fame induction, which was inevitable given his career at Central and UT, couldn't have been timed better. Cobb's Central High class will have its 25-year reunion about the same time, which will enable him to make both before he heads out for the 49ers training camp, presuming the NFL player strike is settled by then.

While Cobb is one of many running backs who made UT a stopover on the way to the pros, he's also a local rarity. He's one of the few Knoxville-area football players who made it in the NFL.

He rushed more than 1,000 yards in a single season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played for Jacksonville, Green Bay and the New York Jets in a seven-year NFL career from 1990 through 1996.

But his place in the area hall of fame was assured before he played a down in the NFL.

Breaking out

When UT entered preseason training camp in 1987, the offense had plenty going for it. Jeff Francis was a returning starter at quarterback, Joey Clinkscales had led the team in receiving the year before, and fullback William Howard was a powerful blocker.

Also, there were three returning starters in the offensive line, including All-American guard Harry Galbreath. All the offense lacked was a big-time running back.

Cobb filled the role quickly and convincingly by rushing for 138 yards in the nationally televised Kickoff Classic against Iowa.

The season confirmed the season opener. Cobb led the Vols with 1,197 yards rushing and tied SEC records with 20 touchdowns and 120 points. His running behind the blocking of Howard and a formidable offensive line helped carry UT to a 10-2-1 season, which included a tie with Auburn and a two-point loss to Boston College without an injured Francis.

Cobb sometimes made it look easy as he glided through a secondary with deceptive speed. He played at 6 feet, 205 pounds but looked two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier on the field.

"I got that a lot," Cobb said. "I've got big legs and most of my body is lower. And back then, we wore bigger pads than some of the guys do now."

There was nothing deceptive about his statistics. Based on his freshman production, he qualified as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

The projections changed after he and the Vols struggled through a 5-6 season in 1988. He was slowed by ankle and wrist injuries while running behind an inexperienced offensive line.

The season was an aberration for both Cobb and UT. In 1989, he looked better than ever and so did the Vols. He rushed for 616 yards in the first five games and the Vols beat two top-10 teams in a 5-0 start.

A week later, one of UT's most promising seasons swerved off course and Cobb's college career came to an abrupt end. He was kicked off the team after a failed drug test.

Bouncing back

Six months later, Cobb returned to Knoxville and met with the local media. By then, he had gone through John Lucas' drug rehabilitation center and was on the verge of launching a pro career with Tampa Bay.

"My life didn't revolve around (drugs)," Cobb said at the time. "But the important thing is that I did it."

He quickly got his life and career back on track. Cobb rushed for more than 3,000 yards in four seasons with the Bucs, and gained more than 500 yards in one season with the Packers. The connections he made as a college and NFL player paved his way into the scouting business.

"Reggie McKenzie (a Green Bay Packers executive and former Vol) asked me if I was interested in scouting," Cobb said. "He gave me my break."

Cobb worked as a scout for the Washington Redskins and Bucs before joining the 49ers scouting department in 2008. Cobb, who was divorced two years ago, stayed in Houston even though he's now assigned to the West region, because he wanted stay close to his son.

DeMarcus Cobb will be a junior at a Houston-area high school this fall. Like his father, he's a football player and track athlete.

"He has played running back all his life," Reggie said. "He made varsity as a sophomore and will battle for a starting job this year. He long jumps over 22 feet. This will be a big year for him."

And it will be another big traveling year for his father.

Road warrior

Someone could get road-weary just reading Cobb's travel itinerary, which cranks up following the 49ers training camp. After a brief return home, he's off and driving.

He might drive across Texas to check out UTEP in El Paso before moving on to New Mexico. Next comes California. He's apt to go through Southern California all the way to Fresno.

By then, he's just getting revved up.

From Fresno, he might fly home for several days before flying back to Fresno and picking up his car. Then, it's off to the Great Northwest, including such foreign outposts as Missoula, Montana.

"That's what I do in the fall," Cobb said. "I will make two big loops through the West Coast."

It doesn't always go smoothly. A couple of years ago, Cobb was stuck in a snowstorm for two days in Pullman, Wash.

Despite all his traveling during the football season, he's not too travel-worn in the off-season to return to Knoxville, where his mother and a sister still live.

He came back last month to honor Galbreath, who died a year ago. Cobb and other former UT teammates staged Camp 76, a one-day instructional youth camp at the Johnny Long Training Academy, in Galbreath's honor.

"He did so much for so many people," Cobb said. "He was the big brother I never had, and my son's godfather. We still miss him.

"It was a pleasure and blessing to run behind him. Not often do you see a guard who was dominant. But he was a dominant player."

That was one dominant UT player talking about another one.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 21

jjsteel writes:

Go Bobcats

BleedsOrangeinMO writes:

Maybe we have a shot at getting his son in a couple of years?

eVOLved writes:

A great article! Free of the characteristic snark, which is great.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

The Cobb Webb attack....now that was the good ole days!

VOLliven2it writes:

Glad he turned his life around. Man if he had not side tracked who knows what all could have been accomplished. I would love to see his son in Orange and White but with the distance and people who will look at him out that way, it is likely a long shot.

pingkr62 writes:

in response to VOLliven2it:

Glad he turned his life around. Man if he had not side tracked who knows what all could have been accomplished. I would love to see his son in Orange and White but with the distance and people who will look at him out that way, it is likely a long shot.

I remember R.C. well. Great tail back. Another candidate for V.F.L. G.B.O.

hueypilot writes:

Glad to hear the good ending to Reggie's saga. I remember him bouncing an off tackle play outside against Auburn and taking it near 80 yards all the way to the house totally outrunning the secondary.

jjsteel writes:

in response to hueypilot:

Glad to hear the good ending to Reggie's saga. I remember him bouncing an off tackle play outside against Auburn and taking it near 80 yards all the way to the house totally outrunning the secondary.

I can't remember the linemans name, but he put a huge pancake block on a line backer that same play.

volntx writes:

Who is the single season Vol record holder for most yards from scrimmage(rushing & receiving)? Reggie Cobb!

He has to be in everybodys top 5 Vol running backs. For me I say #2 behind Jamal Lewis. Reggie had "that wiggle" as Coach Majors use to say.

The run in the Auburn game was in the pouring rain, and he just crossed his arms and stood still afterwards. One of his best runs was against Duke when he broke at least 5 tackles on the way to a 50 yard TD. I remember leaving the Georgia game with the crowd chanting Reggie! Reggie! That was his last game as a Vol.

makelemonade writes:

in response to jjsteel:

I can't remember the linemans name, but he put a huge pancake block on a line backer that same play.

Charles McCrae, a 6'8" monster.

nocleats writes:

in response to hueypilot:

Glad to hear the good ending to Reggie's saga. I remember him bouncing an off tackle play outside against Auburn and taking it near 80 yards all the way to the house totally outrunning the secondary.

TennVol01 writes:

I am befuddled why a player who was kicked off the team for drug use, can be Hall of Fame material. I watched Reggie play and he had personal problems during his time with the team. At the time he was kicked off the team, there was not a lot of love for him. But, I am glad he matured and got back on his feet.

BuckFama writes:

He was a joy to watch.

Life's not about where you were, but about where you are and where you're going!

Go Vols!

goldengate writes:

A special running back, no doubt!

trollhunter writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You have betrayed those two individuals as well.

nwcs writes:

Wow, all these comments and no one has bashed Adams yet. Must be a modern day record.

FrostyVol writes:

loved reggie, but for me, charlie garner is still the best back to wear orange. dude just could flat out explode. never seen a rb before or since who made everyone else look like they were running in molasses.

Vols4Ever writes:

The Cobb-Webb attack as called by John Ward was some of the best offensive dominance ever in the SEC. Hope we can see something even close in the next few years.

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to makelemonade:

Charles McCrae, a 6'8" monster.

I thought it was Art Still.

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to brokendownoldvol:

I thought it was Art Still.

I was thinking 87.Tthat run was 89 and it was Charles MsRae. Charles was probably the best offensive tackle Tn ever had.

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