CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About eight months ago, Aaron Dobson was sitting in a conference room at the Department of Environmental Protection, autographing Marshall football posters as the anticipation for the 2012 college season grew.
Fast-forward to this past Saturday. Dobson was at another table signing autographs, this time at Collectibles Etc. in Cross Lanes.
He still was signing memories of his Thundering Herd career - pictures of big catches and other Marshall keepsakes fans toted in - but the anticipation this time was a little different.
It wasn't just with thoughts of next season. Dobson's thoughts stretched further into the future. Starting tonight and until as late as Saturday, Dobson will be sitting surrounded by family, waiting for the phone call that reveals his NFL future. He's expected to be an early-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, and wants to show everyone that West Virginians can thrive at the highest levels of football.
"It's a crazy feeling just to not know where you're going to end up, what round you're going to go in, how long you're going to wait until your name's called, if your name's called," he said. "There's a lot of stuff that plays into it. But at the same time, it's exciting, just to be in a position I've been waiting for since I've been 6. I've been dreaming of this."
As a child, those dreams were a little broader. Be it the NFL or the NBA, he wanted to be a professional athlete. And Dobson admits that in high school, he leaned more toward basketball. He was a two-time all-state first team pick on the court, leading South Charleston to consecutive Class AAA state runner-up finishes. Yet as he grew older, he realized his size and physical skills, commonplace in basketball, were unique in football.
He was highly decorated on the gridiron as well, the 2008 Kennedy Award runner-up as a senior when he led the Black Eagles to the Class AAA state title. Dobson knew football was his future.
But did college football know Dobson was in its future? The Herd was the only Football Bowl Subdivision team that offered him a scholarship. He had gone to camps at Rutgers and Tennessee, but Dobson's mother Angela said that, despite great performances at those camps, he had popped up on the recruiting radar just a little too late.
"The Rutgers coach said they'd already extended all their wide receiver offers," she said. "He said, 'We don't even recruit West Virginia. Most West Virginians are West Virginia fans. We can go to Florida and see 20 kids or come to West Virginia and just see one.' "
The entrance to FBS football came in a phone call from Marshall after the Dobson family arrived home from church the Sunday after the Class AAA football championship.
"He was ready right there and knew this was where he was going," Angela Dobson said. "I really think it was the best decision for him. It was where he needed to be."
As a sophomore, Dobson led the Herd in catches and receiving yards and tied for the lead with five touchdown receptions. As a junior, that touchdown total rocketed from five to 12, including one that seemingly defied physics. His diving, one-handed, backhanded scoring grab against East Carolina was one of ESPN's top plays of 2011.
Dobson's father Bobby was watching with his brother-in-law on the other side of the stadium when his son made the catch. He originally thought Aaron was trying to bat the pass away from a defender, but the celebration in that corner changed his mind.
"That little group of fans went nuts and we were like, there's no way he could have caught that," he said. "When he came out (after the game), I said, 'This isn't Dad talking. That was a heck of a catch. This isn't me being a dad. That was one of the best I've ever seen.' "
It made Dobson a YouTube sensation - one clip of the catch has more than 1.8 million views - and that catch made him the focus of Marshall's 2012 football promotions.
But the out-of-this-world senior season many expected didn't materialize. Losing all but one play over three games to a November knee injury didn't help. And Marshall's offense also evolved. Opponents made stopping Dobson their top priority, so he caught only three touchdowns in 2012. But defenses' focus on Dobson helped allow slot receiver Tommy Shuler to catch a school record 110 passes and tight end Gator Hoskins to catch 10 touchdowns.