Every time Tarboro running back Radja Bobbitt touched the football this year, he was thinking one thing: Touchdown.
The surprisingly powerful running back who stands shorter than 5-foot-10 is explosive to contact. He looks for game-breaking back cuts, but he always is willing to run through an opposing defensive linemen.
But two years ago, Bobbitt wasn’t thinking of achieving much of anything.
He was in trouble constantly. He barely was attending classes. He nearly lost his spot on the football team because of failing grades.
On the verge of taking a much different path, Bobbitt decided to stop.
“I needed something I could do, something positive,” Bobbitt said. “Fortunately, I had Tarboro football.”
Tarboro football was a mutually beneficial partner this year as Bobbitt rushed for more than 1,800 yards, scored 33 total touchdowns, and was named the 2013 All-Area Telegram Offensive Player of the Year.
The stress he once put on his mother, Angie Bandy, is gone now.
Instead of failing out of school entirely, Bobbitt has turned his life around and even received reciprocated interest from the N.C. A&T football program.
“No matter what you’re going through, the trouble that you’ve been in, you can still make something positive out of your life,” said Bobbitt, who has tried to be a good example for his younger brother, Willie, and his nephews. “You can make a positive impact on your life and change as a person.”
Bobbitt learned from some of the best.
When Bobbitt was a sophomore, current Georgia running back Todd Gurley showed him the importance of good footwork and ball security. Last year, he was a member of a talented backfield that featured Travonne Marshall and Quentin Roberson.
He knew his final year at Tarboro would be different than all the rest. Bobbitt knew the challenge he would be facing.
“I felt the spotlight,” Bobbitt said. “I knew I was the No. 1 guy this year. I knew a lot of pressure would be on me. Big plays would be put on me when they had to be made.”
With a very unexpected blend of power and speed, Bobbitt had a knack for making all the big plays. At roughly 5-foot-10, Bobbitt doesn’t fit the normal mold of a power running back, but his name is listed at the top of nearly every lifting exercise in the Tarboro weight room. In the process, Bobbitt didn’t lose any of the speed that allowed him to score four times in the second round of the NCHSAA 1-AA state playoffs.
“So often, we lose guys like Radja all the time at the school,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. “... You just see them fall off the face of the earth.
“He made a choice. He was just not going to do it.”
Bobbitt’s problems at school started when he first reached high school, Bandy said. As a single mother, she was searching for the fine line between pushing Bobbitt and pushing him too hard. Eventually, Bobbitt found his own way, which led to the football field. Bobbitt wants to be his mother’s first child to graduate high school.
“I know that makes her happy, one of her children being successful,” said Bobbitt, whose older brother and sister never finished high school.
Bandy never has seen her son play varsity football because of her work schedule, but she knows how much of a difference football has made in Bobbitt’s life.
“I really don’t have the words to express the way I feel,” Bandy said. “I have three other kids. He’s the only one that really put it out there for everything to work out. It’s really new to me, and I’m very proud of him.”
This year, Bobbitt had to shoulder the load and the burden of being the top ball carrier and one of the few remaining seniors from the Vikings’ last state championship team.
Craddock was aiming for Bobbitt to receive 50 percent of the carries, but because of injuries to other rushers, Bobbitt wound up carrying 60 percent most of the time. Sometimes, Bobbitt took 70 percent of the touches.
“I thought we got every bit out of Radja that we could get,” Craddock said. “... You may not think that kid can run the ball that hard, that strong and that powerfully.”
That determination comes from fighting for something, and Bobbitt had to fight to change his life. Football helped him do that. Tarboro helped him achieve it.
“I decided to give it my all and dedicate my life to it,” Bobbitt said. “... Every season has been an improvement for me. That’s all I wanted.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org