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UNT's Cobbs sets example on,off field
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model idol

Cobbs sets example on, off football field


11:04 AM CDT on Wednesday, August 25, 2004


By Brett Vito / Staff Writer




When the subject of her former co-worker Patrick Cobbs comes up, it isn’t the North Texas running back’s accomplishments on the field that Helen Mack remembers most.

The national rushing title he won and school records he set last season are all secondary to the smiles Cobbs brought to the faces of children at the Nelson Children’s Residential Treatment Center, a home for emotionally disturbed youth.

Cobbs worked at the center for five months before the beginning of his junior season in 2003.

"Patrick was always smiling," Mack said. "You could never tell if he was having a good day or a bad day. He had such a positive impact on our kids."

Cobbs could have found a less demanding job, but said he wanted to find out what it is like to work with children with special needs. Cobbs continued to visit the children he met long after he quit working at the center before the 2003 season, when he shed his reputation of being a solid role player while running away with the national rushing title.

Cobbs’ attitude and the milestones he has reached both on and off the field are reasons many who know him best view him an American Idol, one whose willingness to help others off the field is almost as impressive as his accomplishments on it.

Cobbs not only worked at the Nelson Center, he also took a day out of his summer a few months ago to speak at a Team Focus camp at UNT. The camp provides mentors for young boys who are growing up without fathers.

"Patrick is the type of athlete you get into coaching for," UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. "He is a great athlete and gives it his all in the classroom. He is the consummate student athlete and a great person."

Cobbs first learned about the Nelson Center from a cousin who works at the facility in Denton. After hearing about the center that houses children ages 6-15, he decided to apply for a job there.

Mack said working at the center can be trying at times and requires great patience but can also be rewarding if a worker can make a positive impact in a child’s life. Cobbs tried to relate his own experiences to the children at the center and motivate them to find a better path through life.

"There were a lot of kids there who didn’t get a lot of opportunities," Cobbs said. "Their parents made bad choices or they made bad choices and were in a tough spot. I tried to let them know that there were different ways out of the trouble they were in."

The message was one he delivered again when he was a featured speaker at the Team Focus camp at UNT. The organization, founded by ESPN college football analyst Mike Gottfried, identifies boys without fathers who need role models and will mentor them through their high school graduations.

"Patrick did a great job with us," Gottfried said. "When he spoke to our kids he talked about getting good grades in school and being responsible. He intertwined those things very well."

Working with children is a cause that is important to Cobbs, partly because of his own experiences growing up in Oklahoma.

"Growing up was not hard for me, but I went through a lot," Cobbs said. "I was not with my real dad when I was growing up and went through divorces, so I know what goes on with those kids. My dad didn’t live with me, but I saw him during the summers and have a close relationship with him."

Those experiences were one of the reasons Cobbs took time away from his preparations for the upcoming season to work at Gottfried’s camp. Gottfried said Cobbs’ demeanor surprised the boys.

Most expected the nation’s leading rusher to be a loud and intimidating athlete. Cobbs showed he was different from the stereotype for an elite college football player by sitting and helping boys take notes during seminars after he finished speaking.

Cobbs’ teammates, coaches and UNT officials describe him as a fun-loving person who has maintained a humble attitude.

"You can’t find a nicer kid," Villarreal said. "He is always the first one to say hello and has never put himself in front of the team. If you talk to him you would think he is just another guy on the team."

That has not changed since Cobbs won the national rushing title last season.

"Patrick is the same old, same old," offensive lineman Lonnie Chambers said. "He knows that it takes an offensive line to block for him. He is a really cool guy."

Cobbs’ attitude was one of the reasons UNT recruited the former Tecumseh, Okla., standout. A few Division I-A programs showed interest in Cobbs early in the recruiting, but backed off. With national signing day only a few weeks away, Cobbs still didn’t have a scholarship offer from a Division I-A program.

UNT’s coaches swept in and signed Cobbs, a player they thought had the potential to help them thrive in a tough situation. UNT was coming off of a 3-8 season in 2000 and faced a typically tough non-conference schedule in each of the next few seasons.

"Patrick was the type of player we set out to recruit when I first got here," UNT coach Darrell Dickey said. "It was my opinion that we needed guys who were going to stay four or five years, which means they needed to have academic ability to succeed in college and good work ethic that comes with character. Patrick was strong in every area."

What UNT’s coaches could never have anticipated is how Cobbs has developed into one of the nation’s top collegiate running backs.

Cobbs earned a spot in a two-man rotation with starter Kevin Galbreath as a freshman and racked up 1,160 yards in two seasons. UNT’s coaches openly wondered if Cobbs could handle the lead role in the Mean Green’s running-based offense when they moved him into the starting lineup before last season.

Cobbs answered those questions by posting one of the best individual seasons in the history of UNT football.

Cobbs led the nation in rushing with an average of 152.7 yards a game and scoring with an average of 11.5 points a game. Cobbs also left his mark in the UNT record books when he set a series of school records, including the single season rushing record with 1,680 yards and single season touchdown mark with 21.

Those accomplishments will make Cobbs a marked man this season.

"This year will be tougher on Patrick," Dickey said. "We didn’t know if he could carry the load. Last year he proved that he could. Everyone will be gunning for him this year."

UNT’s athletic department is planning a publicity campaign to promote Cobbs for a series of postseason honors. Some of that promotional material will also double as bulletin-board material for opponents who are determined to humble one of the nation’s top running backs.

Cobbs has prepared for that challenge and set an example for his teammates by coming into fall camp in top shape. He has put on nine pounds since the end of last season to push his weight to 198 pounds, but is still able to leave most of his teammates behind when it is time for conditioning runs at the end of practice.

This season, Cobbs has started running sprints at the end of practice not only with his assigned group, but also with the team’s offensive and defensive linemen.

"Patrick always works hard and sets the tone for the team," offensive lineman Weston Thaggard said. "The energy he brings pumps us up and pushes us as a team."

That extra work Cobbs has put in could pay off in another milestone achievement this season. Cobbs is just 281 yards short of breaking Ja’Quay Wilburn’s UNT rushing record of 3,120 yards.

Cobbs’ work ethic has paid off not only on the field, but in the classroom as well. Cobbs will graduate in May with a degree in Applied Arts and Science, a degree that would allow him to coach after he finishes his football career.

Cobbs could have graduated a semester early, but decided to spread his last few classes out over his fourth year at UNT so he could concentrate on his final college football season.

Cobbs name will be scattered throughout UNT’s record book following the 2004 season, but Dickey said he will remember Cobbs more for putting the team first and representing the university in a positive manner.

The example is one the children he worked with at the Nelson Center took to heart.

"Patrick showed them that if they set out their goals that everything is possible in life if they trust and believe," Mack said. "The kids love to have someone like Patrick come in and talk to them."

Cobbs called the experience a rewarding one that helped him fulfill his goal of setting a positive example for children.

"Being a role model is not why I do charity work," Cobbs said. "But if somebody wants me as their role model, I want to feel like I am capable of being one."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870.
08-25-2004 11:30 AM
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Quote:"Being a role model is not why I do charity work," Cobbs said. "But if somebody wants me as their role model, I want to feel like I am capable of being one."

Great article on a player that does his school and conference proud 04-cheers
08-27-2004 04:59 PM
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