When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Tennessee University quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, most fans were intrigued by the young man’s athleticism and big arm. What they would also come to learn is how he is known almost as much for his brains, as his brawn.
Dobbs wasn’t just the starting quarterback for the Volunteers; he also graduated with a aerospace engineering degree. In other words, Dobbs is a rocket scientist. At a time when professional athletes are putting all their eggs into their athletic basket, Dobbs is bold enough to think outside the box and pursue other endeavors outside of football.
Throughout his professional football career, Dobbs has taken part in several NASA operations. Everything from speaking with astronauts to being present for a space launch when he was a part of the Jacksonville Jaguars organization.
Mission Success! Today, Americans return to space from FL’s Space Coast for 1st time in 9 yrs. What a tremendous honor to have been here. A cohesive team can accomplish anything! Congrats to @nasa, @spacex, @nasakennedy & all involved in today’s historical mission. Godspeed! pic.twitter.com/AN9FE3guDj— Josh Dobbs (@josh_dobbs1) May 30, 2020
Would Dobbs want to go after a job with NASA, or some other aerospace organization, when his football career is over? It is interesting to note if he did, and if he were to go on a launch, he wouldn’t be the first NFL player to do so.
In the 62-year history of NASA, Leland Melvin is the only person to have played in the NFL before becoming an astronaut. His Detroit Lions jersey hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a spot of honor after it returned from space.
Could Dobbs be the next? He got an up-close-and-personal look at how NASA works in 2020 when he spent a month in a NFLPA externship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. While he absorbed technical knowledge and was amazed at the innovative leaps happening, he also saw things that directly correlate to his sport.
“You’re in this big wide room with hundreds of monitors, and the people I was with in instrumentation take up the five monitors to the right,” Dobbs told ESPN in 2020. “Everyone else is working on a completely different subsystem of this rocket, and everyone has to be on the P’s and Q’s for the rocket to launch, for them to have a go for launch. So to be able to sit in there and see, OK, this correlates so much to football. ... You have 53 people, but everyone’s different. But everyone still has to understand their position and how it affects the big picture for something as little as a play to go right and then for the team to win.
“To see the dynamics, and it kind of is good to see them not in your normal everyday world of football. You’re able to see them in a different light, so you’re able to kind of rewire your mind to be able to apply those concepts to the football world.”
The connections between physics and football continue to be relevant to Dobbs. His entrepreneurial approach of finding a solution to a problem, regardless of what the problem is, continues to drive Dobbs on and off the field.
“When you go to school for engineering, from the second you step on campus, you’re given a physics problem,” Dobbs told Sports Illustrated in July of 2020. “You’re asked to find the most efficient way to solve that problem and then repeat it for the next one.
“When you’re a quarterback on the football field, the defense is constantly presenting problems, and you’re tasked with, ‘OK, let me efficiently solve this problem and move to the next one.’ So having that constant critical-thinking mindset, that engineering mindset, that problem-solving mindset, is exactly how it correlates. So you’re practicing on both, whether you’re in the engineering world or you’re on the field.”
Dobbs isn’t the first NFL player to dedicate their lives to something outside of football, even during their career, but to say Dobbs’ dedication to space exploration and aerospace science is bold is an understatement. In fact, Dobbs would love nothing more than to work for NASA following his playing career.
“Getting a chance to work with NASA—it showed me there’s a lot of possibilities.” Dobbs said.
“It would be amazing to work for NASA, so I think space is definitely a possibility.”
Unfortunately, Dobbs suffered a toe injury during the 2021 preseason and found his way onto the Injured Reserve (IR) list for the Steelers. Unless he is released, he will spend the rest of the season on the Steelers’ IR and will be able to re-evaluate his football career following the 2021 season. Until then, I think Dobbs has some options outside of football if he chooses to hang up the cleats for good.