HOUSTON – If you have seen Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs play at all this year, it was probably Dec. 12, when his Midshipmen beat rival Army in Philadelphia on national television.
On that day, the junior ran for a touchdown for the 24th time this year, a single-season NCAA record for a quarterback.
Missouri (8-4) vs. Navy (9-4)
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
But even if you haven't paid attention to what Dobbs has done in his first full season as the Navy starter, he knows his teammates have.
"I'm always being watched," he said. "Somebody told me that when I was little, a long time ago. No matter where you are or what you do, somebody's always watching."
Dobbs seems to be setting a strong example. To start the season, Navy (9-4) nearly upset eventual Big Ten champion Ohio State in Columbus. Two of the team's other losses also came to bowl participants, and only Pittsburgh beat the Midshipmen by more than a touchdown.
"He makes the offense go," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. The Tigers (8-4) play Navy at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Texas Bowl.
Of course, Navy is different than most NCAA programs. When Dobbs looks around the huddle, he sees future military officers in the faces of the receivers, the running backs, the offensive linemen. Their training has taught them all about accountability. And they're looking to him for direction.
"It's a feeling that too many people can't experience, unless you're a quarterback," he said. "But then coming here where everybody's going to be a leader, and you're the leader of these leaders, that's something on another level.
"On the offense there's so many great guys with their own personalities and own character traits that make them the people that they are," he said. "They're going to be great leaders."
For all the work required of student-athletes at any school to fulfill their academic and athletic obligations, Dobbs and his Navy teammates have a unique college experience. Blaine Gabbert and Sean Weatherspoon do not wake up for morning meal formation every day at 7 a.m.
Dobbs, like plenty of his classmates, had days when we wondered if that life was for him.
"When I first got to the (Navy) prep school in the fall of 2006, and between my freshman and sophomore year, I almost left. So that was two times I almost left," he said. "You have to make a big sacrifice socially, because you're not able to be out like some of your friends who went to the regular universities and stuff like that. So it's a big challenge to a kid coming out of high school."
Still, Dobbs explained, Navy's football players do not ever have to worry about losing their scholarship due to injury or poor performance. If a player ever decides to quit football, he can continue his education at the Naval Academy.
Dobbs' maturity is reflected in his understanding of the long-term job security and health benefits the Navy will provide for himself and his future family.
"I just went back onto the reasons why I chose to come here in the first place," he said. "I felt like I submitted myself to God's will. If He wanted me to be here, obviously it's for a reason. I don't know why, but I'm just going to sit here and enjoy it."
At Tuesday's press conference, Dobbs discussed his dream of being President of the United States someday. Whether or not he chooses to pursue that lofty goal, he'll be sure to remember what he's already learned.
Somebody's always watching.