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A lot has changed for Demarco Cobbs in the last 12 months.
This time last year, Cobbs was finishing up his senior year at Tulsa Central High School. This time last year, Cobbs was a decorated high school football player who had plans of playing for the Texas Longhorns on the offensive side of the ball, possibly at running back.
In less than one year in Austin, Cobbs has played one season at safety and this spring, made the move to linebacker under the watchful eye of new Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. The former Gatorade's Oklahoma high school football Player of the Year and Tulsa High offensive playmaker has taken to his new defensive role like a fish to water.
It's been quite a transformation for Cobbs on the field, but he's made equally impressive changes away from the gridiron.
This time last year, Cobbs didn't really have a place to call his own. He had the potential for a bright academic and athletic future, having signed a letter of intent to play football at Texas, but Cobbs was having to find his way as he neared high school graduation. He had lived with his grandmother during much of his teenage years, but as his family's house got more crowded, Cobbs spent most of his nights crashing at a friend's house wherever he could find space. Still, he remained focused, and he's now reaping the rewards for his hard work and dedication to his books and his efforts on the field.
Cobbs' ability to stay the course at such a young age during some trying times is even a motivator to those that are closest to him.
"He is such an inspiration for me whenever I get down. I always think about Demarco, what he's gone through," said Cobbs' high school coach and good friend Corey Russell. "When I went down there last year for the Florida Atlantic game, we went to his dorm, he gave us a huge hug and was so happy for us to come down there. When he was talking to us, he said 'Coach, look at this. I've got my bed.' I'm so happy for him. It's the first time he had slept in his own bed in three years. He usually slept on the couch or the floor. That's just because he didn't have a lot.
"He never really got to celebrate a birthday or Christmas, the things we all do. Our kids make a Christmas list out and hope they get everything on it. Demarco is one of those kids, he hoped he'd get a pair of shoes or something like that. He never had that kind of family where he got to celebrate like that."
MAKING HIS MARK OFF THE FIELD
Cobbs really burst onto the scene for the Longhorns this spring when he spun down to linebacker, where his speed and athleticism make him a playmaking threat for Diaz's attacking defense. But it's his work in the classroom and overall growth as a person that stands out to those who know him best.
Russell talks to Cobbs regularly and gets reports on Cobbs' grades every semester. Russell was one of the first calls Cobbs made after being named to the UT's Athletics Director's Honor Roll in the fall of 2010.
"I get his grades every semester. For a kid that struggled in high school academically, this kid has a 3.7 grade point average at the University of Texas. He's working his tail off," Russell said. "I'm just so elated for him. He's a kid that deserves everything he gets. He's that story that people are going to make a movie out of because this kid came from nothing. But he's always worked to take care of his stuff.
"He's matured so much. I just can't believe how much. W were a little worried about that with Demarco, how he would handle the academic rigors of the University of Texas. But he's taking advantage of everything Texas has to offer."
Cobbs' grandmother, Friddie Owens, helped raise him from a young age. She credits his self-discipline and faith in helping Cobbs find early success in Austin.
"I'm very proud of Demarco in everything. He's developed into a nice young man. He's been a nice young man all the time, but the good things he was taught, he's showing that," Mrs Owens said. "He was raised in the church and I think that has a lot to do with him making the right decisions. I'm very proud of him. Very proud of him."
A WINNING PERSONALITY
On the field for Texas, Cobbs is making the most of his opportunities. The 6-2, 210-pounder switched to outside linebacker at the beginning of spring drills, where he was able to immediately get into the rotation due in part to UT's limited depth at the position. When projected starter Jordan Hicks went down with a foot injury midway through spring drills, Cobbs began to pick up first-team reps and he made a strong impression, including a solid performance in the Orange-White game.
"We said 'let's just go play and put you in a position where when you go in that locker the guys are happy to have you on the team.' Ultimately that's the jury. That's what you want. You want the respect of your peers, and without a doubt his athleticism is what we want on our defense," said Diaz. "He's tough. He doesn't back down from challenges."
Cobbs' physical ability to make plays as a linebacker should surprise nobody - he was regarded as one of the country's top recruits coming out of Tulsa Central. He's also shown a quick ability to win over his coaches and his teammates.
"He's smart. He's got a great attitude. He's got one of the top smiles on our team. People think that's not a great skill for a defender, but honestly when you want to work with somebody day in and day out, that's something that is very important to us. And he's been a delight to coach," Diaz said.
In high school, Cobbs was never a guy to give his coaches or his family headaches. His grandmother praises his manners and says she never had worries of him getting in trouble. Russell remembers Cobbs as a young man who rarely went to parties and never "sagged his pants." He followed the rules that were set before him and his former coach believes that type of obedience has helped him succeed at Texas.
"If coach (Mack) Brown or any position coach tells him to go somewhere on Saturday and be there at this certain time, he'll do exactly what they told him to do," Russell said. "He has that kind of discipline and belief in his coaches."
Though he starred mostly with the ball in his hands in high school, playing quarterback, running back, receiver and returner, Cobbs' move to defense was something his high school coaches predicted when he signed with Texas. Cobbs is described by Russell as a solid tackler and a defender who can play well in space, and he has the right mindset to play on that side of the ball.
"He's going to be able to do some things that Diaz likes to do when I saw him at Mississippi State. Coming off the edge, Demarco will be fabulous at that," Russell said. "He'll make himself better. If he feels he's deficient in any area, he'll make himself better."
"And I'm telling you, hell strike you. The only reason we didn't have him on defense is because he'd never have come off the field. He's one of those kids that's just a solid athlete.
Russell, who moved from Tulsa Central to Idabel High School in 2010, still talks to Cobbs two or three times a week. As someone who saw Cobbs' talents first-hand every day in high school, he's not surprised that Cobbs has made an early impact on the Texas program from a playing perspective. He's also not surprised that Cobbs has been willing to make whatever moves the coaches thought would be best for Cobbs and the Texas team's future.
"Demarco trusts his coaches. He would do anything that we asked him to do. He just automatically assumed whatever we were doing, we had so much love for him, he knew we were doing the best thing for him, he'd do anything," Russell said. "If I asked Demarco to be a left tackle, he would do it.
"We were in inner city area, our socioeconomic situation wasn't great, probably about 90 percent of our kids were on the reduced lunch program. It was a pretty bad area. We preached on our kids that hard work will get you out of this place. Demarco was one of those kids that believed everything we taught him."
NEARLY A DIFFERENT PATH
As a junior at Central, Cobbs was already a hotshot recruit who had coaches from around the country chasing his talents. Cobbs mentioned early on that Texas was his dream school and had talked publicly of committing to UT early if he could make it to Austin and pick up a scholarship offer.
Things took a turn for the unexpected when Cobbs was unable to make a few different scheduled visits to the Forty Acres, and Texas' 2010 recruiting class began to fill up quickly. During the summer before his senior year, Cobbs visited a number of other schools and eventually wound up giving Tennessee a surprise commitment in September. The contact with Texas had cooled for a few months prior to his commitment to the Volunteers, and any hope of Cobbs playing for the Longhorns appeared dead.
Then, roughly one month after his verbal pledge to Tennessee, Cobbs had a change of heart. He picked up the phone and called UT assistant coach Bruce Chambers to inform him he'd like to switch his commitment to Texas. Cobbs was brought in for an official visit one week later, and his commit became official.
For a teenager living up in the state of Oklahoma, it was a bizarre story for fans following from a distance. Cobbs never really gave in-state schools Oklahoma or Oklahoma State much of a look, he was very open about his affinity for Texas, and the Gatorade Oklahoma high school football Player of the Year paid little attention to the pressures applied to keep his talents in-state.
"I wanted to give Demarco an experience like all the rest of the kids have. We took unofficial visits, we tried to take him down to as may schools as we could. What stood out in my mind," Russel said, "was the way he handled the pressure. He never did let it get to him. He handled the recruitment extremely well."
The recruiting efforts by the Texas coaches, and Cobbs' proactive phone call to Chambers, eventually paid off for the Longhorns.
"I think his whole growing up, he always loved Texas. The way Texas showed interest in Demarco with coach Chambers and coach Brown, the way they were coming to Central compared to coaches from other schools, coach Brown made you feel at home when he came to visit," Russell said. "He's just like a regular person and that really put Demarco over the edge. He had already heard about coach Brown being a nice person, but he felt really comfortable around him.
"He's told me since he been there how coach Brown has gotten on him and pushed him and he liked that. The coaches at Texas are being real with him and not babying him."
In a little less than one year on the Texas campus, Cobbs has endeared himself to the UT fan base for his play on the field, and he's put himself in a prime position to make a bigger impact on the Longhorn team in 2011. His growth and experience as a player should continue to win over the burnt orange faithful, but it's the things that go less publicized that may be the most impressive.
"To see him grow up, I knew he was going to be successful at football," Russell said. "But to see him grow up and mature, as well as put himself in position to some day be a starting linebacker, that's what I'm proud of. How he's matured, I'm so thrilled with his grades.
"With him, he's just a kid that I'm proud of. He's done so much, been through so much. He never asked 'why me?'. He's played the cards that were dealt to him and he plays them the best way he can."