The long journey of C.J. Cobb

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CINCINNATI - On April 10, C.J. Cobb found himself in a familiar position. He lay on his back in the middle of field, looking up at the sky. Alone.


Not on the bottom of a pile after pancaking a defender. Not stretching his legs with teammates after a long practice.


No, he was alone. And much like an ACL injury he suffered which cost him the 2008 season, he knew this injury was bad.


"I looked up at the sky and said, 'Why? Why is this happening to me again?" Cobb said.


What happened this time was a broken right ankle.


What happened this time was, suddenly, the senior year of the right tackle enjoying his first run atop the depth chart was placed in jeopardy. Not only would the timetable for recovery push into early portions of camp and the Bearcats regular season, a possibility remained Cobb might not be the same.


Cobb knew what it would feel like to be an outsider having watched the Bearcats live the highs and lows of the first Big East championship and trip to the Orange Bowl from the sidelines two years ago. He wasn't about to relive that experience again. Not for his senior year.

"The guys I have been here with the past five years, I was like 'I can't let them down,'" Cobb said. "I have to get back on the field. I wasn't going to go out like that. I am going to go out playing and starting my last season. That lit a fire under me."


The fire grew with the help of trainer Bob Mangine and his staff.


"When it happened, Bob sat me down on the field and said, 'You can't go home. You can't stop working. You have no vacation,'" Cobb said.


With extra work and a relentless attitude, Cobb came to camp not only recovered, but ahead of schedule. The number of reps and total workload has been monitored, so Cobb hasn't been tossed completely into the trenches. But, he's now reaching full speed and fighting for his first starting spot position during his time in Clifton.


"It's difficult because I couldn't even walk on this thing for a good six or seven weeks," Cobb said. "It hurt. It was swollen. My ankle is probably never going to be back to size."


But Cobb now provides depth desperately needed along the thin offensive front. 


"He's got a big role and played a lot of football here," Butch Jones said. "The kids respect him, he's a leader and a great example to the younger kids."


Cobb's effect expands beyond a name on the depth chart or 300-pound mass of body along the edge of the offensive line. As part of a senior class small in numbers, Cobb delivers stability and emotion.


"C.J. Cobb is one of the best people I have ever known as far as character," Jones said. "He is always full of energy and passion. He has great spirit about himself."


Offensive line coach Don Mahoney saw Cobb's spirit rub off on those working along with him during the summer. The man he battled for the starting position with, Andre Cureton, dropped 30 pounds over the summer with Cobb serving as the gold standard for determination.


"It has been unbelievable," Mahoney said of Cobb. "People don't see that. They never will see it, but this guy has worked unbelievably to get himself ready to go for the season."


Eight days before Cobb's final run at college football officially begins at Fresno, he strapped on the full uniform and ran through the gameday procedure at Thursday's Beanie Bowl. It was his first time working as a full participating member of a Bearcats practice since he was sprawled out on the field about four months ago.


The experience of sacrificing a summer of leisure for the grind of ankle rehab left a lasting impression on the gentle soul of the 6-foot-4, 306-pound giant.


"God has a plan for all of us," Cobb said. "Sometimes that plan isn't exactly what we think it should be. So when he changes it up on us it takes us for a loop, but everything happens for a reason. I am happy. I am happy I am back out here."


Many times when adversity strikes and the path followed hits a detour, those who persevere and survive emerge stronger than before it began. In many ways, Cobb can be counted among that contingent.


Every step has been worth it and been a big reason why his smile spans from ear to ear when he talks about taking the field a week from Saturday.


So, he wouldn't change any aspect of his journey, right?


"If I had a chance to go back," Cobb said, reflecting. "Yeah, I still definitely wouldn't let (the injury) happen."

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