When he left Lincoln Financial Field last season after Navy's eighth straight win over Army, Ricky Dobbs had completed the type of regular season that positioned him on the early list of Heisman Trophy candidates for 2010.
The Midshipmen's quarterback burst into the national discussion by rushing for 1,203 yards and 27 touchdowns, an NCAA record for most TDs by a quarterback, and showed ability and charisma not unlike Navy's last Heisman winner, Roger Staubach (1963).
But the hype died out quickly on Labor Day when the Mids lost their season opener to Maryland. Dobbs fumbled three times, losing two at the Terps' 1-yard line, and was stopped at the goal line on fourth down in the final minute.
A man of deep religious conviction who overcame a difficult family situation as he grew up, Dobbs denied feeling any pressure from all the expectations of him, and felt the performance was part of a higher plan.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Dobbs said at last week's Army-Navy luncheon. "It may not have been meant for us to go undefeated and for me to win the Heisman. Maybe it was just meant for me to kind of get that thought to open people's eyes.
"The fumbles were uncharacteristic because it wasn't like I was toting the ball out here and holding it away from my body. They hit the ball on the right spot, hit me on my hand. I had cuts and marks of their helmets hitting me. It was just the luck of the draw."
However, neither Dobbs nor his teammates allowed the season-opening loss to set a tone for their season. Entering Saturday's rivalry between the two academies, the Mids are 8-3 with their eighth consecutive bowl bid secured.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Dobbs, of Douglasville, Ga., again is the leader of a rushing attack that is one of the nation's best, currently third in the NCAA with 302.5 yards per game. The senior quarterback has gained 806 yards this season with 13 touchdowns.
"You've got to be able to bounce back and weather the storm," Dobbs said. "To me, that's a life lesson because there are going to be times in life when something is going to happen or go the wrong way and we have to be able to bounce back and still provide for our families. You've got to keep fighting. You don't have time to sit back and dwell on anything that didn't go the way you planned."
You could say Dobbs' formative years didn't go as planned. His parents divorced when he was 2, and his mother turned to drugs and alcohol for the next 10 years before becoming sober, he said. His grandparents provided a foundation for him, and uncles offered equal doses of discipline and spirituality.
Dobbs took advantage of this training, learned lessons from various situations, and thrived. He is vice president of the senior class. The Naval Academy, seeking to improve in the area of diversity, has used Dobbs in its recruiting. The quarterback also has said - not jokingly - that he will be a candidate for president in 2040.
"Everything that you go through in life, every situation, every obstacle, is preparation for something to come," he said. "All the things I've learned as a child, all the things I've seen, I've applied to my daily life here and to football as a whole. I try to relay the lessons to the people I lead on the football team and in my company."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo calls Dobbs "a model midshipman."
"He's a great football player, never been in trouble, works hard, does his best in the classroom," Niumatalolo said. "He's a good human being, just a good person. I'm very proud of what he's accomplished both on and off the field."
Dobbs has come a long way as a football player. Despite being a passing quarterback in high school, he went to Navy, with a run-oriented offense, because it was the only school that recruited him as a quarterback.
He struggled with the Mids' triple-option offense but started to blossom as a sophomore, coming off the bench to rally his team. That included overcoming a 20-point deficit in a 2008 win over Temple.
Dobbs has led the Mids to a 17-6 record as a starter and has scored a rushing touchdown in 21 of those games. He enters Saturday's contest with 48 rushing touchdowns, the fifth-most recorded by a quarterback in NCAA history.
He has proven to be a durable ballcarrier, running the ball slightly more than 20 times per game this year and in his career. He toted the ball 33 times for 113 yards and a touchdown in last year's 17-3 win over Navy, and was named the game's MVP.
Now he would love to finish his career by keeping alive the Mids' winning streak over Army. Navy has further incentive in that it lost earlier this season to Air Force, losing the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy it had held since 2003.
"That was a detrimental blow to us," he said. "That's the first class that lost the trophy in seven years. That could have been the end of our season right there. But we bounced back. To go 4-0 against Army would be a great accomplishment."