In 2017, JK Dobbins proved that he was no ordinary freshman running back when he stepped in for an injured Mike Weber.
Dobbins had the best freshman season an Ohio State running back has ever had, rushing for for 1,403 yards on 194 carries and averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
While splitting carries with Weber last year in his sophomore season, Dobbins rushed for 1,053 yards on 230 attempts, averaging just 4.6 yards per carry.
Disappointed in last season’s performance, Dobbins has made it his goal this spring to get back to his freshman form for the fall.
Sophomore slumps are not uncommon — that’s why the phrase exists, after all. But Dobbins knows that he is capable of much more than what he showed last season.
“Last year was a down year for me,” he said. “Going back and looking at my freshman year, I’m going to be back that way… even better, though, than that year.”
And as for what that freshman form looks like?
“You know, making guys miss super bad, like making them fall, stuff like that,” Dobbins said with a grin on his face.
Dobbins still managed a productive sophomore season splitting carries. Unlike his first two seasons with the Buckeyes, however, he will not be splitting carries with Weber this fall.
He knows he is the lead dog now for the Buckeyes.
Because he was splitting reps, Dobbins was looking for more home run plays as opposed to picking up consistent yards. He wanted to make the most of each series because he knew he would be coming out of the game for the next one. As a result, his game changed and ultimately so did his productivity.
“I mean, it didn’t bother me splitting reps,” Dobbins said. “But you approach the game different I feel like.”
So far this spring — his first spring camp without Weber in the picture — Dobbins said he already feels like he is getting his rhythm back.
“I feel better… I feel like y’all could say [I’m back to] my freshman form,” he said.
But that’s not just because he is the main tailback now.
Most of the Buckeyes who will again be starters in the fall have a lighter workload in the spring. Dobbins has already proven himself and he knows he will be a critical part of Ohio State’s offense in the fall. But he doesn’t want any leniency. He wants the coaches to work him like a freshman again.
“A lot of people say I’m going to get a lot of rest, but I don’t want that and I told them I don’t want that,” he said. “I feel like I gotta get better. I can’t get better if I’m resting, I gotta get in there and work on my craft.”
Buckeye head coach Ryan Day calls this “the white-belt mentality.”
“In the martial arts, when you have that white-belt mentality, which is ‘I’m starting over again,’” Day said. “And when you have that mentality like you’re going to kind of start from scratch again then you can really clean up a lot of things. A lot of guys in this position don’t have that mentality, so it’s a credit to him.”
Dobbins is not shying away from the fact that he regressed his sophomore season, especially after a freshman year that set the bar incredibly high. Despite that, this coming season he has the chance to become the first OSU running back since two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin to record three 1,000-yard rushing seasons — and the first to do it in his first three seasons on campus.
With his mentality of wanting to get back to his freshman form, the JK Dobbins that already set records at Ohio State is ready to put his name on some more, and in the process reach much loftier heights.