When the No. 2 ranked Ohio State take on the No. 3 ranked Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, all eyes will be on the Buckeyes’ star running back, J.K. Dobbins, whom along with Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Justin Fields, has had a wildly successful 2019 season thus far.
Watching and cheering on Dobbins, 21, at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday will be his mother, Mya Grounds, but absent will be his father, Lawrence Dobbins, who died while in Bartlett State Prison. Lawrence suffered a stroke on February 14, 2014. He was 33 years old.
Dobbins, whose initials are short for J’Kaylin, was only 15 years old when his father died, the 5’10, 217-pound future NFL running back told Cleveland.com that he learned a lot from his father. “He’s the reason I love football,” Dobbins said.
“When my dad was alive he would tell me no matter what, have a smile on your face,” Dobbins said. “No matter how you’re feeling, you’re living and you should be able to smile… It was not easy. I cried myself to sleep. It’s something you can’t explain to lose a parent, and I was close with my dad. I loved my dad. I have a positive outlook on life because I’m still living and I can appreciate more things in life. You’ll see me smiling. I might still be thinking about it, or in pain, but you will never know because I’m never gonna show it. That’s how I am and that’s how my family is. You gotta keep working hard and don’t let something hold you back.”
J.K. Dobbins’ Father Lawrence Was a Star High School Football Player
Lawrence, who was star running back at La Grange High School, where Dobbins also attended, but it was through his prowess as a track & field athlete that he earned a spot to attend Lincoln University in Philadelphia. However, he didn’t feel as passionate about track & field, and dropped out college before his senior year.
Even though they never married, Dobbins’ father headed to Texas, where Dobbins’ mother was taking classes at Blinn College, and briefly played as a walk-on for their football team. Not happy not being a starter, Lawrence soon quit.
“That was the worst thing for him, quitting the football program and not following through,” Grounds said. “After football didn’t work, life was kind of over for him.”
Unable to hold a steady job, Lawrence got involved with the wrong kind of people. In 2012, he was convicted for theft of property and sentenced to two years in state prison.
“My dad taught me a lot of things through actions and through words,” Dobbins said. “Seeing what he was doing, and the trouble he got in, I didn’t want to be like that, and he told me he didn’t want me to be like that. So that’s how I see it. I didn’t want to go there.”
Dobbins Opened Up About His ‘Father-Son Relationship’ With Buckeyes Coach Tony Alford
Dobbins, who’s in his junior year at Ohio State, has already racked up a total of 4,285 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Buckeyes.
The star athlete was highly recruited with 25 offers from teams such as Alabama, Oklahoma, and USC after tallying 5,215 yards and 74 touchdowns at La Grange High School, and was named U.S. Army All-American. However, Dobbins chose to attend Ohio State after being recruited by the Buckeyes’ offensive coach, Tony Alford, without even ever visiting the school.
Alford, who lost his beloved younger brother six years ago, felt a deep bond with the running back, and the two quickly connected over their shared trauma. Dobbins offered Alford advice on how to help his young nephew process such a loss, as he was around the same age when his father passed.
Alford opened his home to Dobbins, and became a father figure to him. “If I ever need help… I can just call him up, and he’ll be there,” Dobbins said. ‘On the field, if you love somebody, you can go out there and plays as hard as you can.”
“I love him like my own,” Alford said, “But Im not here to be his friend. I’m here to guide him and I’m here to coach him.