HOOVER, Ala. — Josh Dobbs couldn’t help but chuckle.
Surrounded by a horde of reporters, cameras and recorders at SEC Media Days, the Vols quarterback fielded a question that he has heard countless times before, and one he’ll probably keep hearing until he steps off campus in Knoxville, Tenn.
How is the senior going to handle the tremendous expectations being placed upon his team in 2016?
Dobbs’ answer likely hasn’t changed since he started college. The difference is that Tennessee’s stakes are much, much higher this time around.
“I feel like there’s always expectations placed upon us,” he said. “Our goal is to focus on what we can control, focus on the controllables. We can’t buy into outside mind sets, outside expectations.”
It’s a predictable response. After all, with Dobbs signing shortly after Butch Jones was hired in 2013, he finds himself part of a core group responsible for putting the Vols in their current position: Favorites in the SEC East, candidates to finally topple a couple of hated rivals and maybe even national title contenders.
Tennessee is talent-rich across the board and return 17 starters this fall, of course. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin called it Jones’ best team yet. But even Jones conceded on Tuesday just how crucial Dobbs has been in rebuilding the program.
“These three individuals (Jones, Cam Sutton and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin) have really been the catalysts,” Jones said. “We had 31 days to assemble a signing class our first year, and we spoke about bringing Tennessee football back to relevance. They’ve really been the foundation.
“I can’t say enough about Joshua Dobbs. When you look at the definition of a student-athlete, it starts with Josh Dobbs. When you look at engineering, you look at his curriculum, you look at the time demands that are placed on him, from an academic workload and then being the starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee. That’s a global position. He’s a done a great job; you look at community service, you look at the giving of his time. And his game has continued to progress.”
As Jones recounted, Dobbs went from a true freshman who didn’t make the travel squad for a Florida game to becoming the starting quarterback against Auburn two weeks later. The signal caller went on to score 17 total touchdowns as a sophomore and then 27 scores on nearly 3,000 offensive yards in 2015.
The Vols haven’t looked back since. On Tuesday, Dobbs did for a moment when asked to size up Tennessee’s growth since he arrived, and had this to say:
“Me and Cam (Sutton) were roommates freshman year,” he said. “There would be times we were sitting there, talking about maybe the season, and we were talking about the goals we wanted to accomplish at Tennessee. The fact that every single goal we wanted to accomplish is right in front of us is great. We talked about in our class bringing Tennessee back to a spot in where it should be. Obviously Tennessee has a great program of tradition. That was our mind set when we set on campus.
“We’ve done that, and now we have to take care of business.”
And that, for the Vols, is where the balance of their season hangs.