Josh Dobbs stands in profile against a bright field of orange


It seemed like a bit of a Hail Mary.

Duane Wiles, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, received an email from an alumni chapter leader about a student applying to the university who was interested in aerospace engineering. The chapter leader wondered if former Vol quarterback Joshua Dobbs (’17) could speak with the student about his experience studying that subject.

Given that Dobbs was playing in the NFL, Wiles wasn’t sure if he would have time to call. But he passed the information along just in case. A few weeks later, the chapter leader got back in touch, overwhelmed with gratitude because Dobbs had contacted the student and answered all his questions.

“That’s just the type of person Josh Dobbs is,” Wiles says. “He is truly one of a kind.”

Aside from donating money or making a few appearances in the offseason, many professional athletes wait until the end of their career to give back to their alma mater. Dobbs is the rare professional athlete who is fully immersed at a prominent level.

Dobbs, the youngest person to serve as president of the UT Alumni Board of Directors, is finishing his year in the position. He’s attended board meetings, helped raise thousands of dollars, and worked to get more athletes engaged in the life of the university. He also serves on the Tickle College of Engineering Board of Advisors and has invested in scholarships in areas ranging from the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering to the National Society of Black Engineers and the Pride of the Southland Band.

Even before he graduated in 2017 with a degree in aerospace engineering and a minor in business administration, the Alpharetta, Georgia, native established the Joshua Dobbs North Atlanta Alumni Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to North Atlanta–area students attending UT.

Josh Dobbs sits at the orange and white game wearing a black NASA shirt and a white Tennessee ball cap

Dobbs has done it all while pursuing one of the toughest jobs in professional sports as a quarterback in the NFL. The position requires the highest level of mental and physical commitment to learn the playbook, attend meetings, break down films, bond with teammates, and care for the body outside of practices and games.

Although waiting until his playing career was over to get involved with UT would have been easier on his schedule, Dobbs knew the university would benefit from his stature in the NFL.

“I think you can make the most impact while you’re playing. That’s when you have the most relevancy, obviously—with the media and with the community,” Dobbs says. “So to be able to stay involved and engaged while I’m playing is really cool. I think it provides me a unique opportunity to not only stay connected with Knoxville and still have a reason to come back but also shows the student-athletes and other students on campus you can still be involved and invested in your university even though you’re pursuing your career.”

Dobbs learned to juggle multiple obligations while at UT. His time management skills as a student-athlete were widely admired. He was able to balance a rigorous academic load with the demands of being a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference while still having time to serve the East Tennessee community.

During his senior year Dobbs was named a Torchbearer, the highest honor for an undergraduate student, which recognizes accomplishments in the community and academics. He graduated with honors, including four consecutive years as a Football Academic Torchbearer and SEC Academic Honor Roll member.

Dobbs had originally committed to another college while he was in high school. He changed his mind largely because UT didn’t make him pursue a less rigorous academic major in order to play football.

“It’s part of my passion. To be a place that’s so open and welcoming to allow student-athletes to pursue whatever their goals and passions may be is what makes the University of Tennessee so special.”

“That was huge, because I knew I wanted to study aerospace engineering, and I knew if I didn’t play a sport on any campus across the United States, I would be studying engineering,” Dobbs says. “It’s part of my passion. To be a place that’s so open and welcoming to allow student-athletes to pursue whatever their goals and passions may be is what makes the University of Tennessee so special.”

During an Alumni Board meeting at UT in February, five student-athletes took part in a panel to share their experiences and offer advice on how the board could better assist them. Margaret Marando, a swimmer and senior architecture major, was a member of the panel.

“Other schools told her, ‘No, you can’t do that. You can’t be an architecture major and a student-athlete.’ But UT and her coaches and the academic and athletic staff all told her, ‘If you want to do that, you do that,’” Dobbs recounts. “That’s the same mindset and same approach that my mentors, coaches, and academic advisors had when I stepped on campus.”

Dobbs’s biggest priority as Alumni Board president has been trying to bridge the gap between student-athletes and the alumni office. He doesn’t want student-athletes secluded on one part of campus and not engaged with life outside the athletics bubble.

“I want student-athletes to understand the resources the Alumni Board offers, and also connect them with alumni within their respective fields that are doing such tremendous work,” Dobbs says. “I want to see our student-athletes succeed outside of their sport, because there are so many connections they can make that can open doors for them once they step off campus.”

The Alumni Board hasn’t made any concessions for Dobbs in his role as president because of his NFL career. He has not only fulfilled all the required obligations but has done even more than past presidents in terms of publicity and requests to help attract potential recruits.

“I am not only amazed, I am shocked that he is able to give his time, talent, and treasure to the university while still playing at a very high level,” Wiles says. “We are very lucky and blessed to have him serve in the capacity he does while still playing in the NFL. It’s a testament to how committed he is in terms of supporting his alma mater.”

Josh Dobbs walks through campus while interacting with several orange clad children

The Volunteer spirit remains a fundamental part of Dobbs’s life. He established the ASTROrdinary Dobbs Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and inspiring all members of the community, particularly youth, through educational, economic, professional, and recreational empowerment.

Dobbs was recently recognized as a 2023 Forbes Class of 20 Under 30 Local Leader for Cleveland and was named the 2024 Watkins Man of the Year by the Watkins Alliance, which works to uplift and mentor youth, focusing on African American males, through programs that prepare students for college.

He regularly holds activities in Knoxville for his foundation, along with making other charitable appearances. He recently surprised a Make-A-Wish recipient who was on a tour of Neyland Stadium and delivered Girl Scout cookies he purchased from a local troop to patients at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

He also maintains a close relationship with a young Knoxville boy, A. J. Cucksey, who has been battling inoperable brain cancer since he was four years old. Their bond dates back to 2014, the year of Cucksey’s diagnosis and Dobbs’s sophomore year at UT.

“It’s hectic, it really is. But there’s so many good causes that I’m a part of, so to be able to maximize my time and be back and continue to make an impact on the city I love—I would be remiss not to take advantage of those opportunities,” Dobbs says. “I just try to stay present in everything, whether it’s an interview, a photo shoot, or speaking with students.

Because they are all really cool opportunities to be able to share my story and give back to help inspire the next generation.” No matter what NFL team he’s played for since being drafted in 2017, Dobbs has generated publicity for UT through his unique story.

He earned the nickname The Passtronaut while playing for the Minnesota Vikings last season. According to Google Trends, “Is Josh Dobbs an astronaut?” and “Josh Dobbs NASA” searches skyrocketed once he was named the starter.

Dobbs has served two NASA externships during his NFL career. He spent a month at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as part of the NFL Players’ Association Career Experiences program.

Dobbs was on site for the historic SpaceX launch to the International Space Station. Scott Colloredo (’89), the director of engineering at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, got in touch with Dobbs through LinkedIn and gave him a VIP tour when he visited.

“We rounded up all the UT folks, and they had a ball with it,” Colloredo says. “He was with the Steelers at the time and a few Steelers fans were coming out of the woodwork trying to join our party, but it was a UT thing. There were probably half a dozen Tennessee graduates that took him around and they got a big kick out of it. The UT community is pretty strong.”

Josh Dobbs speaks into a microphone while being filmed

Dobbs still remembers his first visit to UT, when he was an impressionable high school student unsure of his future. The campus community welcomed him and showered him with love. He immediately felt like part of a family–a connection that has not only lasted but grown stronger.

“I didn’t want it to just have a four-year impact. I wanted it to have a 40-year and beyond impact,” Dobbs says. “It’s crazy to think that I am seven years removed as a student at the University of Tennessee, because UT continues to have a tremendous impact on me, and I’m glad to be able to positively impact it as well.”

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