COLLEGE PARK — Maryland wide receiver Brian Cobbs had heard many stories growing up about his father’s football career at Penn State. Yet it took a trip to State College on one of his visits as a high school prospect for him to start to understand how great a college defensive back Duffy Cobbs had been.
“When we went up and everybody remembered who he was,” the younger Cobbs said after practice Monday, “some of the guys he played with, they would always tell me how great his feet were and he could pretty much lock up any receiver. Hearing that from other people really let it sink in.”
Friday’s game against the No. 12 Nittany Lions at Maryland Stadium will be the second go-round for Cobbs and his father. A year ago, when the younger Cobbs was a freshman, the trip to Happy Valley was difficult for both of them.
“It was very hard, I’ve got to be honest,” Duffy Cobbs said in a telephone interview Monday. “It was very weird and it got even weirder when Brian made a couple of catches, hearing the Cobbs name, and it wasn’t that he was playing for Penn State. The bottom line is, that’s my kid and I’ll always root for family first. … It was kind of a tough situation.”
Said the younger Cobbs, who caught two passes for 58 yards in last year’s 38-3 loss: “I knew it would give him butterflies in a weird way. I guess just anxiety. He played there, he had a lot of success there. So seeing me play there was a really big moment for him. When we drove up [as a team], I had been there so much, it was kind of weird for me as well.”
The elder Cobbs would like nothing better than to see his son catch the game-winning pass against the Nittany Lions come Friday.
“Funny story last year, when we went to the game at Penn State, me being a former letterman, I was just joking around, I said, ‘You know what would be awesome? If I were down on the Penn State sideline with the other lettermen and you caught the pass to win the game and I ran into the end zone to high-five you,’ ” Duffy Cobbs said with a laugh.
Brian Cobbs could get that chance against the Nittany Lions.
In a year when two other sophomores, Carlos Carriere and Sean Nelson, caught their first touchdowns as Terps, the younger Cobbs is still looking to get in the end zone. In his first eight games at Maryland, playing mostly behind Jeshaun Jones and Darryl Jones, Cobbs has caught eight passes for 188 yards, including a 48-yarder against Penn State last season.
With Jones (torn ACL) out for the season, and sophomore Darryl Jones sitting out the second half of the loss to Temple on Sept. 14, the opportunity for Cobbs could be there against his father’s alma mater.
Asked if he could build off last year’s performance against Penn State, Brian Cobbs said: “Last year was last year. I’m just going to play to the best of my abilities and whatever happens is whatever happens.”
Watching a game against the Nittany Lions in College Park should bring memories for the elder Cobbs. Starting as a walk-on and being converted from wide receiver to cornerback, Cobbs redshirted on Penn State’s national championship team in 1982 and later played a major role on another national championship team as a senior in 1986.
In the 1985 season opener against then-No. 7 Maryland, Cobbs recalled chasing down and forcing speedy wide receiver Azizuddin Abdur-Ra’oof out of bounds to prevent the go-ahead touchdown with Penn State clinging to a 20-18 lead. Maryland then fumbled at the Nittany Lions’ 22-yard line to help the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions preserve the win.
The following year, Cobbs said he knocked down a 2-point conversion pass on the last play of the game to help No. 2 Penn State survive, 17-15, and stay unbeaten. Penn State went on to beat Miami, 14-10, in the Fiesta Bowl to win another national title. The elder Cobbs was credited with keeping Michael Irvin, the Hurricanes’ star receiver, under control. Cobbs also recovered a fumble in that game.
Along with his sophomore year, when Penn State beat Maryland, 25-24, the three wins over the Terps were by a combined five points.
“Maryland always played us extremely well, [but] we seemed to come out on top,” said Cobbs, who as a senior led the Nittany Lions with four interceptions and 15 pass breakups, then played three games with the New England Patriots in 1987. “I think they were always very well-prepared. They had great quarterbacks. My freshman year was when Boomer Esiason was the quarterback. Stan Gelbaugh was there. There were really tight games.”
Growing up in Northern Virginia, the younger Cobbs got a sense of what kind of player his father had been.
“Just him teaching me, I knew that he really knew what he was talking about,” Cobbs said. “It wasn’t like somebody who’s never played football before teaching me what to do. He went to a very high level and had a lot of success there, so I knew whatever he was telling me was for the good, so I might as well listen and maybe my outcome would be as good as his.”
Both Cobbs and his older brother, Mike, were recruited by Penn State. As happened to their father when he suffered an injury in his senior year of high school, Mike Cobbs broke his leg toward the end of his junior year at Hayfield High and saw many schools lose interest in him. He’s now a redshirt senior who plays linebacker at James Madison.
“It’s crazy when something like that happens, schools can back off,” Brian Cobbs said. “He’s happy with the situation he’s in. He’s making the most of it. He’s got a couple of rings at JMU. It couldn’t get better than that.”
Brian Cobbs said after getting the offer from Maryland, he saw no reason to wait around for the Nittany Lions.
Nor was there any pressure from his father.
“He put it all in my hands,” the younger Cobbs said. “There was never a moment when he was stressing me to go to this school or ‘Hey, let’s not commit now and hold off if Penn State comes down the road or whatever.’ He let me choose what I wanted to do. Maryland was a school that I felt had a plan for me and I felt I could have a lot of success here.”
As Friday night’s game approaches, Cobbs knows his father will be there rooting for the Terps. But he doesn’t want to make too much of the family history with the two schools.
“At the end of the day, it’s just another game which I’m trying to play with my team and hopefully come out with the outcome that we like,” he said.
NO. 12 PENN STATE@MARYLAND
Friday, 8 p.m.
Radio: 1300 AM; 980 AM