BURNABY — Gavin Cobb is back for his second season with the Simon Fraser Clan, and this time around, there is no better way to describe him than to call him the king of the return engagement.
On Saturday (1 p.m., CLAN TV), when Simon Fraser (0-1) takes to Terry Fox Field atop Burnaby Mountain to open the home portion of its Great Northwest Athletic Conference schedule against California’s Azusa Pacific Cougars (0-2), there is simply no way to under play the importance that Cobb’s rare abilities as a kick return specialist will play in giving SFU a chance get into the win column for the first time since the 2014 campaign.
“I never want to say that I am surprising myself because being confident is so key,” says Cobb, who through the first three weeks of play, sits fifth in all of NCAA Div. 2 in combined kick return yardage (346) and 11th in all-purpose yards-per-game (190.3). “But I never really expected to be doing this well. Still, at the same time, I expect even more from myself.”
Both of Cobb’s marks are tops in the GNAC, and sure to be one of the primary focuses for a winless Cougars team still stinging after absorbing a walk-off 17-16 loss last week to Central Washington which knocked them from No. 22 to out of the national rankings.
Last week, in SFU’s 72-14 loss at Humboldt State, a game in which the Clan trailed just 21-14 with 3:10 left in the first half, Cobb raced for 224 yards on six kick-off returns, including one that covered 83 yards. The SFU defence would love to give Cobb a chance to do as much in the punt return game as well.
As well, Cobb’s return work against Humboldt State also helped his own cause as a receiver, catching a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Miles Richardson.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
See Cobb out of his pads, and you’re struck by the slight nature of his frame.
“You look at him and he doesn’t pass the eye test,” begins Clan head coach Kelly Bates of Cobb, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, “but then you see him play. This might not be the right comparison, but just in the way that nobody could touch Wayne Gretzky when he was on the ice, in that respect, Gavin is similar because even when he does take a hit, he knows how to roll out of it. He never lets the full impact of it set in.”
With all of the scrambling Bates and the Clan coaching staff have had to do just to compile a depth chart at so many positions on the field this season, Cobb represents one of their rare luxuries.
Perhaps the No. 1 recruit Bates has brought to the program straight out of the B.C. high school ranks, Cobb was a heart-and-soul force with Victoria’s dynastic Mt. Douglas Secondary Rams, and finished his prep career by being named B.C. High School’s Triple A Player of the Year in 2016 after amassing 1,827 all-purpose yards and scoring 16 touchdowns in 11 games.
Last season, as a pure freshman with the Clan, he finished with 909 combined kick-return yards, the fourth-best in all of D2 football.
And when you ask Cobb himself about the success of his many return engagements, it’s clear to see that while his first choice is to follow a predetermined path, it’s so often how he resorts to Option No. 2 which makes him special.
“Every time I catch the ball, I always have a plan of what I want to try to do,” Cobb begins. “I am envisioning that before I even catch the ball. But I know that if it doesn’t happen, I have to react.”
And to say Cobb is light on his feet is an understatement.
In fact when raw athleticism and innate reaction are merged in the ways they are within Cobb, the end result often resembles a highlight reel being played in slo-motion.
“When I first started to recruit him, I was just amazed how Gavin could control his body and how he could contort it while in the air,” says Bates. “He looks like he is frail and small and not able to deal with kids at this level, but he obviously excels against them.
“I can remember when we were doing plyometric drills with the team, and all of these hopping exercises, I would watch Gavin go through those drills and see the explosion and the control he has. It’s almost like he’s floating on air.”
A KNOCK-OUT TALENT
Along with senior Justin Buren, fellow sophomore Nathanael Durkan and senior running back Jalen Jana, Simon Fraser has a pass-catching quartet as effective as any unit in the conference.
Yet despite it all, the losing has been tough.
For his part, Cobb isn’t one of the team’s vocal, rah-rah leaders, but he sets a bar for effort and has total buy-in with Bates’ plan for success.
“Coach has told us it’s a process and we have to trust that process,” Cobb says. “If we do, the wins will start to come. But everyone has to keep their head up. We can’t afford to be negative around here.”
Adds Bates: “As he continues in that direction, he will be the kind of player who leads just by what he does on the field.”
A football team is like a large village.
There are so many moving parts to synch, so many players with unique skills to offer.
And on a team thirsting to feel victory, Cobb’s example is as simple and important as they come.
He just wants everyone to work, everyone to give their all.
As an example we take you back to Oct. 31 of 2015 at Vancouver College’s O’Hagan Field.
Mt. Douglas lost to the Fighting Irish that day, but one play in particular stands out.
“I made a tackle so hard in that game that I knocked myself out,” admits Cobb. “I took a knee to the head and the rest was history. You can’t play football with fear.”
And so the countdown to Saturday continues, rife with the hope that another return engagement, Cobb-style, brings the crowd to its feet and begins to turn the tide’s flow in the opposite direction.
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