Randall Cobb, Kentucky’s Mr. Do-It-All, figures he’s seen 30 games or more in Neyland Stadium.
Growing up 15 minutes away in nearby Alcoa, Tenn., Cobb caught the Big Orange fever at an early age thanks to his father, Randall Cobb, Sr.
“I was a Tennessee fan and took him to the games when he was little,” Cobb Sr. said. “He got a chance to see Tee Martin play, to see Charlie Garner play, to see some of the great players who’ve come through there.”
At one point, Cobb even sold hot dogs during Tennessee games, although he jokes that he wasn’t cut out for sales when there was a football game being played.
“I sold hot dogs for about two weeks at the stadium until I got tired of carrying the little pale around,” Cobb said. “It was pretty heavy. Whenever I got tired of doing it or bored, I’d sit on the steps and start watching the game.”
As a fundraiser, his high school basketball team also worked the concession stands at Neyland Stadium.
“I’ve got a few memories from Neyland,” Cobb said. “I need one more good one.”
How about the ultimate one?
Cobb gets his final shot at the Vols in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. He wasn’t even born the last time Kentucky beat Tennessee in a football game. For that, matter, nobody on Kentucky’s team was.
The Vols have won 25 straight games in the series, the longest active winning streak in the country involving rivals that play every year.
And it just so happens this year that Tennessee (5-6, 2-5) needs to win this game to go to a bowl. Kentucky (6-5, 2-5) has already qualified for a bowl game.
Cobb admits that he was probably too stoked as a freshman when the Wildcats came to Neyland Stadium, and it affected his play.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t get too hyped up for these type of games because you don’t play as well,” said Cobb, who’s second nationally with 2,047 all-purpose yards. “So I’ve been trying to stay as cool and collected as I can, just to make sure I’m ready to handle my business on Saturday.”
Make no mistake, though. Inside, the fire will burn as brightly as ever for one of college football’s finest all-around players.
Cobb’s recruitment, or lack thereof, by Tennessee has been well-documented. The Vols didn’t offer a scholarship until late in the process and did so only after Cobb put on a show in the state playoffs.
“We really didn’t hear anything from Tennessee until right before the state championship game,” Cobb Sr. said. “We received a brochure about their camp, but that’s about it. They never really showed any interest in him until there at the end.”
By that time, Cobb was already committed to Kentucky. He did so that summer prior to his senior year of high school after attending one of the Wildcats’ camps.
Kentucky had promised him a chance to play quarterback, and Tennessee made that same promise when the Vols finally got around to offering.
But neither father nor son were ever completely sold that the Vols were being genuine.
“We didn’t feel they were being upfront and honest,” Cobb Sr. said. “They said they were going to change their system and go to a spread to fit Randall’s talents. But then later on, they wanted to know why he didn’t come to camp so they could see him play. That was a red flag right there.
“Coach (Rich) Brooks told Randall he would like to have him as a receiver, and Randall told him his heart was at quarterback. Coach Brooks told him they would give him a chance at quarterback, and that’s where Randall played his freshman year.
“I really think Randall just felt more at ease with everything and everybody at Kentucky and more at home, too.”
The clincher for Cobb was that Kentucky was there from the beginning and Tennessee got to the party so late, especially with his being right there in the shadow of Neyland Stadium.
“I mean, coach (Phillip) Fulmer practically drove by my house every day on his way to work,” said Cobb, who helped lead his high school to four straight state championships.
He insists he’s not bitter, and in Tennessee’s defense, says the Vols’ staff did what a lot of coaching staffs do when they miss on a player during the recruiting process.
They got too caught up in all the measurables and forgot about the intangibles.
“They didn’t realize how much heart I play with and how much the game means to me,” Cobb said. “I think they overlooked some of the qualities I have as a player that make me who I am. But that happens. It happens all the time in recruiting.
“That’s something I can’t control. I don’t know how they feel about it right now at Tennessee. All I can tell you is that I’m excited to be where I am.
“I believe things work out for a reason, and I wouldn’t want to be any place else but Kentucky.”
His family has been able to scrounge up 42 tickets for this game. Relatives are coming in from out of town, while several others will be making the short drive from Alcoa to Neyland Stadium.
Cobb was back home last week to have his high school jersey retired. He was peppered then with questions about Tennessee.
He’s said repeatedly this week that he wants to let his pads do the talking.
They’ve already had plenty to say this season.
Cobb needs 264 yards in his next two games to break Darren McFadden’s SEC record for all-purpose yardage (2,310) in a season. He’s accounted for 16 touchdowns – seven receiving, five rushing, three passing and one on a punt return.
His 66 catches are second in the SEC to South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery. And with 839 receiving yards and 376 rushing yards, he has a chance to become the first player in SEC history to collect 1,000 receiving yards and 500 rushing yards in the same season.
It all culminates this weekend at a place where Cobb spent more than a few fall Saturday afternoons as a kid.
“It’s in the back of my mind, something you can’t ignore,” Cobb said of his last shot at the Vols in Neyland Stadium. “But if I can just find a way to control my emotions before the game, I think we’ve got a great chance to get a win, and it will mean that much more in the end.
“I want to feel it, not sit around thinking about it.”