INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — We often joke about the last spot on the roster or barely making the team, which is exactly where Devin Mockobee was this past year.
Tucked away in the small southern Indiana town of Boonville, population 6,600, Mockobee rushed for over 3,500 career yards at Boonville High, won the Indiana State High School long jump title, and placed second in the 110 meter hurdles. Despite these achievements, many college scouts viewed Mockobee as anything but a running back at the college level.
Was he a corner or a slot wide receiver? The debates took place behind the scenes between coaches as Mockobee attended camp after camp as a high schooler trying to catch someone’s eye.
Even game tape from fall 2020 of his school-record 415 yards rushing against future Purdue teammate quarterback Brady Allen and Gibson Southern High School wasn’t enough to create multiple NCAA Division I scholarship offers.
In summer 2021, after passing up his lone NCAA Division I offer to Navy, the 6-foot, 190-pound running back packed up in Boonville and made the nearly four-hour drive due north to Purdue University.
For the entirety of the Boilers 2021 season, Mockobee watched from the sideline, redshirting as an anonymous walk-on freshman running back as Jeff Brohm’s passing offense took flight in route to a nine-win season and victory in the Music City Bowl over an up-and-coming Tennessee squad out of the SEC.
The Purdue rushing attack? About as quiet from a statistical standpoint as you’ll find from a nine-win team in a Power Five conference. In 13 games, the Boilers’ single-game leading rusher eclipsed 75 yards just twice all season.
Despite being buried as the fourth running back on Purdue’s depth chart heading into this season, Mockobee made his collegiate debut in Week 2 vs. Indiana State, ripping off 78 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“So many people around us in the stands were confused why we were screaming so loudly,” Devin Mockobee’s mother Rachel Jones said. “They were up by a lot, but that was such a special moment for us.”
After being used in a rotating backfield against Syracuse and Florida International, the walk-on burst onto the Big Ten scene in Week 5 at Minnesota. In a tight game late, Mockobee sealed Purdue’s crucial early-season conference victory with a 68-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Mockobee finished the game with 117 total yards, with the lasting image of the victory being the entire sideline mobbing the walk-on redshirt freshman on the sideline.
“Everybody talks about the run, but for me, the best part was when all the other players were coming up and then given him five are hugging him,” Devin Mockobee’s father Conrad Mockobee said. “Because that means you become one of your peers, so as a dad, that was special. As a walk-on, you’re taking that long road to acceptance.”
The performance was no fluke, as Mockobee took control of the Boilers’ starting running back gig, putting together five outings of at least 99 yards rushing this regular season. In his first official start in Week 7 vs. Nebraska, Mockobee set the program’s single-game freshman rushing mark with 178 yards on the ground. He finished with 206 total yards as Purdue won its fourth in a row to improve to 5-1 on the season.
“That is exactly what he is, he is a difference maker,” Jeff Brohm said following Purdue’s regular-season finale. “He is a guy who just wanted to take a chance, to prove himself. We wouldn’t be here today without him. He is that valuable of a player. He is just, humble, and hardworking. He will continue to get better. He doesn’t need any of the credit, he just wants to go out and compete … and Devin came through for us.”
For Mockobee and the Boilers, everything was on the line on Saturday against rival Indiana in Bloomington. Following Iowa’s loss to Nebraska, Purdue entered the contest with a win-and-get-in scenario for potentially its first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Behind Mockobee’s 157 total yards and one touchdown, Purdue bounced their rivals 30-16, clinching Brohm’s fourth victory in The Old Oaken Bucket Game in five tries, and a Big Ten West Division Championship.
As the Boilers flooded the field and hoisted the Old Oaken Bucket, Mockobee headed toward his parents and a large contingent of Boonville residents who made the drive to Bloomington for the biggest day of his football life.
“This is the closest place to home, so a lot of people from Boonville came out today,” Mockobee said postgame. “Half the town (was here) probably, so, I just knew I needed to put on a show.”
This week, Boonville has turned into Mockobee Mania, with downtown storefronts littered with good luck wishes and No. 45 signs in gold and black lettering. It’s sweet revenge for a proud small town that was left baffled just over one year ago as scholarship offers didn’t find their star running back.
“You definitely have to allow yourself more time to go through the grocery store because everyone is stopping you,” Jones said. “Everyone has their No. 45 t-shirts, sending me pictures on Sunday morning that they even wore their 45 shirts to church.”
“So many folks are telling me, ‘I remember when he was little, I knew he was special then,’” Conrad Mockobee said. ” Things like that, it is fun… kids were running up wanting him to sign this and sign that. As a dad, you just want to sit there and say, ‘Man, that is what it is about.’”
Mockobee and unranked Purdue march Saturday night into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as a heavy underdog against No. 2 Michigan. For Jim Harbaugh’s team, everything is on the line, including a top-two spot in the College Football Playoff.
For Mockobee, this is familiar territory. He and the Boilers have absolutely nothing to lose. Sound familiar?
Here’s to hoping the next dedicated young girl or boy from a small town somewhere in America turns out just like Devin Mockobee.