With a football in hand and proudly wearing orange and white, Tracye Ashford marched into Boyd Thursday ready to meet his hero.
He wasn’t alone.
Former Vol quarterback Joshua Dobbs drew hundreds of fans to the Boyd spring banquet who were looking for a stroll down memory lane. The current Pittsburgh Steeler signal caller was happy to oblige, especially in the warm embrace of the Big Orange faithful.
“Just being able to come, give back and talk and share my story and interact with the community, I love it. I’m thankful for these opportunities,” said Dobbs. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, especially meeting all the Vols fans and seeing the strong support we received from this community during my time at UT.”
Dobbs took pictures and signed autographs for an hour with droves of Tennessee fans. Ashford would’ve waited all night to meet him.
“I really liked watching him play,” said Ashford. “I want to go into aerospace engineering too.”
Footballs, helmets, jerseys - Dobbs signed anything that was orange. To him, it’s just a part of being a VFL - Volunteer for life.
“I heard the list of people who have come before me and spoken at this event. It’s a long list of Tennessee legends and it’s cool to join that list,” said Dobbs.
Peyton Manning, Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors are just a few former Vols who have served as guest speakers. To Boyd organizers, Dobbs was an easy choice for this year’s event.
One moment in particular made Kevin Rhoton search out the quarterback.
“I was at the South Carolina game when Josh led the fourth-quarter comeback his sophomore year. It was a great game,” said Rhoton. “What I always remember the most though was the next day a member of his church posted a picture. Josh was the first guy there. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Fans flocked to Dobbs, using their few seconds to recount their favorite memories or give their appreciation. At one point, Dobbs had a chance to speak with two locals who were UT athletes - Danny Martin and Jim Duvall.
“Whenever you see somebody from Tennessee, especially when you see somebody who played football, whether it’s in a community, in Knoxville, in California, it’s an honor to meet them,” said Dobbs. “They came before me and paved the way and built the program the right way, especially in the era they were in at Tennessee. Any chance you get a chance to meet them, interact with them and pick their brain - one VFL to another - it’s an honor.”
Right after, Dobbs was making Talan Mullican’s night. Mullican got his No. 16 Vols jersey signed by a player he’s long admired.
“I was touched. I’ve watched him play a lot. My sister was in school when he was at UT,” said Mullican.
Dobbs went through a question-and-answer session in front of adoring fans before giving the Vol faithful one more big surprise. He ended the night with a $2,500 donation to Boyd school.
Just like when he was leading the Vols, Dobbs could be counted on to come through in the clutch.
Chris Perry led the Q&A with Dobbs at Boyd’s spring banquet, touching on a wide variety of topics throughout the night.
On recruiting two-time SEC player of the year Grant Williams
Dobbs: Grant is very similar to me. He’s very involved in academics. My sentiment to him was he would have the opportunity to play the best athletes in the country and earn a well-known degree. He gets to become a VFL.
His perception of Tennessee before committing
Dobbs: I’m from Alpharetta, Ga. It’s a hotbed for Georgia fans. I wasn’t a Georgia fan - I wanted to branch out and be different.
I was committed to Arizona State. When coach (Butch) Jones got the job, he called me as one of his first recruits. I had just went to Arizona State on an unofficial and was set to go back for an official visit. I was happy with ASU.
Coach Mike Bajakian (Dobbs' offensive coordinator for a year at UT) came to my French class, which was taught by an ASU grad, for a week. I set up a visit, but I had been to four schools in four weeks; I was traveled out.
I wasn’t going to go. I came home from baseball practice and went to my room. My dad drug me to the visit and I feel in love. The rest is history.
Top moments at Tennessee
Dobbs: The comeback in South Carolina when I was a sophomore. That was great. It was so, so cold that night. It was hailing sideways before the game. That helped us get in a bowl game for the first time in several years.
It’s sort of overshadowed now, but the Georgia comeback win my junior year was big. Then my senior year, starting 5-0.
The Hail Mary that pushed the Vols to 5-0 with a 34-31 win at Georgia
Dobbs: Every time I watch it, I get chills. I could see him catch it. You see Hail Marys growing up and you want to be a part of it.
To do it in a rivalry game, when you can hear a pin drop in the stadium, and being a home-town kid, it was special.
Perry: Have you heard some of the names of the game?
Dobbs: I’ve heard people call it the ‘Dobbs Nail Boot’ game.
How he applies his faith in athletics
Dobbs: You have to be yourself and trust in your faith. You stand with Christ and stand for God. Faith has carried me more than my athletic ability of academic ability.
Choosing football over baseball
Dobbs: I made the choice in high school. My final decision came down to Stanford baseball or UT football.
I was sitting in my room and my dad asked, “which sport could you not live without?” I knew I would wake up every Saturday thinking about football in the fall if I wasn’t playing.
College vs. NFL
Dobbs: When you throw an eight-yard hitch in the NFL, the defensive backs are already thinking ahead. You may get it once, and then it’s going the other way the next time.