In the first half of 2000, Cedric Cobbs could have been elected governor of Arkansas.
There were times later, though, when Cobbs hasn’t wanted to go inside a local gas station because of the piercing stares he might receive. The latter might be a more accurate image of his career.
Cobbs, the Southeastern Conference’s leading rusher this season with 1,179 yards, has been the face of the Razorbacks since 1999. That year, Cobbs scored two touchdowns against Texas in the Cotton Bowl and was named Most Valuable Player in a 27-6 Razorbacks victory.
“He came in as a true freshman and set the world on fire,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.
After Arkansas’ bowl win, the accolades and expectations started raining down on Cobbs. ESPN the Magazine said he was one of the “rising stars of the new millennium.” The Razorbacks campaigned for Cobbs for All-American and Heisman honors in their media guide.
Cobbs said his hype didn’t worry him.
“High expectations are always good,” Cobbs said. “It just gives me something to shoot for.”
The tall talk faded quickly, though. In the third game of his sophomore year, Cobbs separated his right shoulder and missed the rest of the 2000 season, gaining a medical redshirt.
“He has everybody praising him, he’s going to be a first-rounder, he’s on top of every magazine,” Nutt said. “It’s almost too much for a kid, a freshman. He’d never been hurt before, and he kind of falls off the radar. It’s hard for a young man to do that.”
Cobbs was named preseason All-SEC before the 2001 season but injured his left hamstring in the Razorbacks’ third game and was a small factor for the rest of the season.
His indifference began to peek through. In the summer of 2002, Cobbs was arrested for driving while intoxicated while under the influence of marijuana. Cobbs remained on the team, but a toe injury nagged him throughout the season, and his play was again nowhere near what people expected.
Cobbs said he persevered, though, because he continued to remember one thing: He would never meet his playing expectations, so it didn’t make sense for him to meet anyone else’s, either.
“I always expected highly of myself, so that’s not really a big deal,” Cobbs said. “I’m always going to do that, that allows me to better myself, make myself better as a player and a person as well.”
This season has teetered on the side of redemption for Cobbs. His strong start, including a 119-yard, one-touchdown performance in Arkansas’ upset at then-No. 5 Texas on Sept. 13, persuaded SI.com to name him a midseason All-American. With 169 yards and one touchdown, Cobbs had what he called the best game of his career in the Razorbacks’ loss to No. 2 LSU on Nov. 28. He ran for 107.2 yards per game in the regular season and went past 1,000 yards in a season for the first time.
Injuries have been rampant, though. Cobbs injured his left hamstring Oct. 25 against Florida and missed one game. He has been nursing a bruised rib during Arkansas’ bowl practices but said he expects to play against Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 31.
Nutt said Cobbs’ determination from the beginning of the season helped Nutt judge whether this season was going to be a disappointing repeat of the previous two.
“He’s been a very hard, hard worker,” Nutt said. “We knew he was going to have a good year when he went to the 6 a.m. workouts with us, and did all those things, little things. That was good.”
Senior safety Tony Bua has played with Cobbs for five years and said Cobbs’ journey has set valuable example for the rest of the Razorbacks.
“He’s been through so much since he’s been here,” Bua said. “Your hat just goes off to a guy that keeps coming back and fighting and fighting. So many things didn’t go his way and it would have been really easy for him to just lay down and give up, but he stuck in there, and he’s persevered year after year.”
Despite his troubles, Cobbs’ volatile running style and jersey number makes it easy for his “C-4” nickname to stick around. At 6-feet-1 and 225 pounds, Cobbs is taller than many of the running backs Missouri is used to defending.
Although Cobbs’ quick bursts out of the backfield have eluded many SEC defenders, the Tigers said Cobbs will not surprise them.
“We know he’s a big strong runner,” Missouri cornerback Michael Harden said. “We’ve got to approach them like any other good strong running team.”
Missouri tailback Zack Abron was named second-team All-Big 12 Conference and helped the Tigers to their No. 8 NCAA rushing ranking. Arkansas is slightly better at No. 7. Harden said playing against Abron will help the Tigers against Cobbs.
“We’ve got a great strong runner in Abron,” Harden said. “I mean, you go and tattoo him, you’ve got confidence you can tattoo anyone in the nation.”
No matter how he plays, Cobbs won’t surprise Nutt, either. Too much has happened.
“What he’s done, to be able to come back after all these injuries, two years of kind of being out of the picture, to being a 1,000-yard rusher, shows you a lot about his perseverance, his attitude,” Nutt said. “I’m just really proud of him.”