The state of West Virginia currently only has two Division I programs. That also just happens to be the same amount of NFL players that were born in the state; the great Randy Moss of the San Francisco 49ers and Derek Hardman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Born and raised in West Virginia, it’s also where Aaron Dobson has played all of his football. Attending Marshall University—a quick 45-minute drive from his hometown—Dobson plans on increasing that number of players playing in the NFL from his home state.
“It’s a blessing to have a chance to play in the NFL,” said Dobson. “I’m one of the few to make it out of West Virginia.”
Despite being blessed with prototypical build and athleticism for a wide receiver, he was merely a 2-star recruit coming out of high school. Not only were the physical tools there, but so was the production, notching 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a senior in high school.
“It motivates me a lot,” Dobson said on being overlooked. “West Virginia is not that big of a football state. Not many recruits come out of West Virginia that often.”
Dobson was also able to gain further experience and exposure in high school, playing in the Under-19 World Championships, an experience he enjoyed for being able to play with other good high school players and meeting “people from different countries who are picking up on our sport.”
From there, Dobson went on to have an excellent career at Marshall. He finished with 165 receptions, 2,398 receiving yards, and 24 receiving touchdowns, numbers that are all top 10 in the Marshall career ranks.
“It was a great time; Marshall was a great fit for me,” Dobson said. “I don’t regret going there at all. I’m still in the same position I wanted to be coming out of high school, with a chance to go to the NFL.”
Dobson listed graduating college first when asked about his favorite moments at Marshall, saying “it’s a great accomplishment.” One of his other memorable moments was one that many around the nation know Dobson for.
On November 26, 2011, Dobson made one of the greatest catches ever seen at the college football level against the East Carolina Panthers. While being blanketed by Pirates corner Derek Blacknall, Dobson went up for a jump ball with just one hand and managed to reel it in.
“It was just instinct,” said Dobson on what is known as “The Catch.” “The ball is in the air and I was just thinking go get the ball. It just kind of landed in my hand perfectly. It was all instincts.”
Gerard Parker, the current tight ends coach at Purdue and former wide receivers coach at Marshall, joked that he is always told that he should say they had some drill where they practiced that, but said “there (isn’t a) drill for the catch he made.”
“Everybody’s reaction was ‘wow, he got that ball,’” Parker said. “I honestly expect him to get jump balls, but not make reverse backhanded catches like that.”
Dobson’s abilities never ceased to amaze Parker.
“His expectations have been held to a level of greatness,” Parker commented. “He has always been a basketball type of guy. When I saw him his junior year, I was surprised how well he can sit down and got in and out of transition.”
Dobson was indeed a former basketball player in high school. According to Dobson, he considered playing college basketball and said “it was a tough decision.”
“As it came down to it, I just thought I would have a better chance of playing at the next level in football,” Dobson continued. “I think I made the best decision to this day.”
Dobson is certainly thankful for the game of basketball though and how it has helped him in football.
“It definitely helps,” said Dobson on being a former basketball player. “The skills in basketball transfer to the football field. Body control, going up and attacking the ball, it definitely transferred from being a basketball player.”
Dobson, whose favorite receivers were Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald growing up, said he enjoys the position because he “gets to make plays.”
Unfortunately for Dobson though, he had to miss some time this past year with a knee injury.
“It was tough, definitely tough,” remarked Dobson. “It was the first time I didn’t dress out and come play. It was tough being on the sideline and not being able to help my team on the field. I had to be a leader off the field and keep people motivated him.”
Parker mentioned how not having Dobson altered the offense.
“It changed us a little bit,” said Parker. “It changed us from being able to take the top off and throw the ball down the field vertically. We missed the home-run hitter.”
Despite being underrated coming out of high school and the injury this past season, Dobson always remains very positive.
Every day, Dobson sends out two tweets. One of them which says “Positive Thoughts… Positive Outcomes,” and the other, “Tgfad blessed,” which means “Thank God For Another Day.”
“Basically, just thinking positive about everything,” Dobson said on his outlook on life. “A lot of negative things happen in life so you can’t get down about it. I just try to stay positive and make something bad a positive. My parents always told me to stay positive and thank the Lord that I have another day on earth.”
Dobson’s family is a big motivator in his life and a main reason for pushing himself to reach his dream.
“They're really supportive of me,” Dobson said. “I love the game, I love competing, I love working hard. I just want to give back to them.”
Parker said that “AD is a good guy,” and commented on how he matured during his time at Marshall, learning the type of work needs to be put into being a great player.
Now Dobson is putting in more work in preparation for the NFL draft. He attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, having a chance to compete with some of the top seniors in the country. Currently, he is training at the IMG Academy with other college football stars such as Sheldon Richardson, Robert Alford, Robert Lester, and fellow wide receiver prospect DeAndre Hopkins. Dobson has befriended other soon-to-be NFL stars while putting in work.
“It’s great being around guys that have the same dream as you,” said Dobson. “Being around guys like that makes you work harder. I’ve made a lot of good friends down here that I think will be friends for years to come.”
Each day, they are up bright and early for breakfast. Then, they have a couple classes, for things such as interview preparation and mental conditioning. After that, they proceed to do movement workouts, followed by positional workouts, and this all before lunch. After lunch, they hit the weight room, and then are done for the day.
It’s a rigorous day, but one that Dobson understands he needs.
“There is always room for improvement,” Dobson said. “Working on my routes, speed, hands, everything. Always room to improve.”
The NFL is waiting just around the corner from Dobson, and it’s something that Parker believes he is ready for.
“If he stays healthy and gets in there with a good group of a wideouts, I think the sky’s the limit for him,” said Parker.
This upcoming weekend, Dobson will have the chance to continue to show NFL teams his abilities at the scouting combine.
According to Parker, there has been upwards of 90 scouts to visit Marshall in order to get a look at Dobson. The combine still means a lot to Dobson though.
“It’s exciting,” said Dobson. “Only a certain amount of people get invited to the combine. To be one of the 39 wide receivers to be invited is a blessing. You get to show the coaches and everybody that is watching what you can do and your abilities.”
After watching his former teammate Vinny Curry get drafted last year in the second round to the Philadelphia Eagles, saying that he was “nervous like I was getting drafted,” Dobson is ready for his own big day.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I was seven years old,” said Dobson. “To actually be in a position to where it’s coming true, it’s exciting. I can’t even really put it into words. Just thanking the man above for keeping me healthy and giving me the chance to play football at the next level.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.