Josh Jobe beats the odds with resiliency, toughness

Josh Jobe, a sophomore cornerback for the Alabama Crimson Tide, was a four-star recruit who will likely make his second career start on Wednesday against Michigan in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl. But the journey from inner-city Miami to Tuscaloosa wasn’t easy — it has taken years of conviction, resilience and tenacity for him to reach this point in pursuit of a better future.

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Josh Jobe beats the odds with resiliency, toughness

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

James Ogletree | @jameslogletree, Sports Editor

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The first time Josh Jobe approached his eighth-grade math teacher, Lilly Parkin, about attending Christopher Columbus High School, an all-boys, shirt-and-tie Catholic school in Miami, she didn’t think much of it.

She didn’t take him seriously the second time, either, dismissing the idea and telling him to go on to his next class.

But when Jobe approached her about Columbus for the third time in the span of a few months, she knew he meant it. She told him to see her after school that afternoon if he was truly interested in going to Columbus.

“You know how kids will say, ‘I want to do this.’ I was like, ‘OK, yeah, great,’” Parkin said, laughing.

Jobe lived in a neighborhood called Coconut Grove — commonly known as “the Grove” — which Parkin described as being “in transition,” with million-dollar homes a block away from poverty. Other people familiar with the area called it “inner-city” and “rough.”

A kid from the Grove wanting to go to Columbus wasn’t unprecedented, but Parkin’s reaction indicates that the dream seldom became a reality.

Columbus is nearly four times farther away from the Grove than the nearby public high school, where many of Jobe’s longtime friends and teammates from Pop Warner football would attend and play. Jobe, a hard-hitting defensive back, would have been a centerpiece of the team. 

The fees at Columbus would be an issue, too. Though Jobe’s father, Reggie Donaldson, supported him the best he could and kept him off the streets, he was on disability. He cared for his son along with Jobe’s aunt, who adopted him and seven of his siblings.

But Jobe, who knew about the academic and athletic opportunities Columbus could offer, was undeterred. He showed up at Parkin’s classroom that afternoon, telling her Columbus was the start of a better life. He knew the Grove wasn’t filled with positive influences, and he wondered aloud, “What’s gonna happen to me if I go to [my home high school]?”
Parkin promised to look into it.

“Josh wanted to follow his own path,” said longtime friend Matt Haggman. “I don’t know how many eighth graders would really be able to recognize that and make that kind of choice.”

Jobe began the investigation process on his own, researching the date and time of Columbus’ open house and entrance exam and making sure everything was in order.

Parkin and Haggman went to the open house with him. When a wide-eyed Jobe told them he still wanted to attend Columbus, Parkin signed him up for the entrance exam on the spot.

Haggman, who has known Jobe since he was 9 as a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, did his due diligence in showing him other public schools, but Jobe remained steadfast: Columbus was the place for him.

From left to right: Jobe’s father Reggie Donaldson, Jobe, Matt Haggman (Courtesy of Lilly Parkin)

“Josh would listen, but then he would just sort of say, very calmly but very clearly, ‘Columbus is where I want to go,’” Haggman said. “He always seemed to have real certainty about it. Through these other pressures, he was clear that he was the captain of his own ship.”

There was still the money issue, though. Jobe’s family didn’t have computer access to fill out the application, either, so Parkin handled the paperwork and applied for a scholarship, assuring the school that Jobe was a worthy candidate. After the scholarship was awarded, the family still owed some. Parkin took care of the leftover amount, and she and another teacher paid for Jobe’s uniform and books.

“Any child at that age who’s that determined and wants it so much … he deserved the break and the help,” Parkin said. 

Math was Jobe’s best subject in school — he even earned an award for it in sixth grade — but he still stayed after school sometimes for extra tutoring. 

Language arts, on the other hand, was not his specialty. But he was willing to learn. He sent his writings in a group chat with three of his teachers to ask for feedback and sought other ways he could improve.

“He did ask, ‘What can I read to improve my reading?’” said his language and literature teacher, Dinorah Traveria Enriquez. “He gave himself more homework.”

The academics didn’t get any easier once he was conditionally admitted to Columbus. To be fully enrolled, he had to make certain grades in summer school and the fall semester, while also balancing mandatory study hall and football practice. 

Columbus didn’t offer transportation and the family didn’t have a means of getting Jobe to school. So his high school years included countless mornings of waking up before 6:30 a.m., lugging his backpack and a duffel bag full of football equipment as he took a light rail and two different city buses to school. 

“I mean, if that’s not determination,” Traveria Enriquez said. “Anybody would’ve just quit. You can do that for two weeks, but a year?”

He pulled it all off, knowing that getting his education was the crowbar that would keep future doors open. Football was, of course, part of that future, but being able to provide for his father and siblings was another significant motivator. 

He’s especially close with his two sisters closest to his age. All three were in middle school at the same time, with Jobe treating them like a typical big brother: keeping them in line, telling them to get to class and listen to their teachers.

When the younger of the two began sixth grade, Jobe told Parkin and another teacher, Magaly Ercilla, that she was very smart and should be in advanced classes. 

“It wasn’t about ‘I want to buy a big house, I want to buy a car, I want to buy this, I want to buy that,’” Parkin said. “It was always about ‘I want to be able to help my sisters.’ … It was always about him wanting to give back.”

Ercilla says her favorite thing about Jobe is how he plays with her two young boys. They look up to him, telling him whenever he’s home in Miami that they saw him on TV during Alabama games, and he lets them chase him around and pretend that they can catch him.

Top row: Teachers Lilly Parkin, Dinorah Traveria Enriquez, Magaly Ercilla
Bottom row: Jobe’s girlfriend Taylor Simon, Jobe, Ercilla’s two sons (Courtesy of Lilly Parkin)

Haggman also remembers bringing an 11-or-12-year-old Jobe to a homeless shelter and being blown away by his friendliness and compassion as he looked people in the eyes and engaged them as he served them dinner.

But for as tenderhearted and kind as he was away from the football field, he was fearsome on it. His football coaches have described him as “more physically mature” than his teammates and as “a physical specimen” with “ridiculous athleticism.”

Then-Columbus coach Chris Merritt said he worried about Jobe with college football’s targeting rule, in which a player is ejected from a game if he tackles an opponent with the crown of his helmet or hits another player’s head or neck area.

“He hit you. That was his thing. He had no problem hitting you and hitting you again,” Merritt said. “He played with a reckless abandon with his body.”

Merritt, knowing Jobe needed Alabama’s minute-by-minute structure and routine, drove him to an unofficial visit. He said Nick Saban’s program “checked all the boxes” that Jobe needed to be successful.

As the most imposing of a star-studded secondary that included current Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson and Miami cornerback Trajan Bandy, Jobe’s years at Columbus prepared him for college and Division I football. But he wasn’t able to spend all four years at Columbus. Due to a Florida rule that deemed an athlete ineligible if he turned 19 before Sept. 1 of his senior year, Jobe had to explore other options.

Merritt met Dave Dykeman, the coach at Connecticut boarding school Cheshire Academy, at the Under Armour All-American Game in late 2016. The two discussed Jobe’s future while coaching the wide receivers for the week and Merritt suspected Cheshire might be a good fit for Jobe.

Haggman made the trip up the East Coast with Jobe to visit Cheshire in January 2017. It was a different world  — Jobe saw snow for the first time — but he was willing to endure the culture shock to take the next step in his football career.

“I said, ‘Josh, are you ready for this?’” Haggman said. “And he didn’t blink. He said, ‘Absolutely. I’m ready to go.’”

Josh Jobe at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. It was the first time the Miami native had ever seen snow. (Courtesy of Matt Haggman)

He could play both cornerback and safety, but Dykeman put Jobe at safety so he would have more opportunities to disrupt the game. It didn’t take long for Dykeman to realize the caliber of player he could become, reminiscing on a eye-popping play from practice.

“He was playing safety and I just watched him fly on a bubble [screen],” Dykeman said. “I think he made the play in the damn backfield. It was unbelievable to watch.”

After his senior year, Jobe, who had been committed to Miami for two and a half years, met his father and Parkin in Alabama for his official visit. He ended up flipping his commitment on that trip and signed two months later, as part of a talented trio of defensive backs that also included Patrick Surtain II and Jalyn Armour-Davis.

He played sparingly except for the national championship game against Clemson, when he entered after an injury to a starting corner. But internally he wasn’t thrilled with his amount of playing time. The “Miami culture,” Merritt said, is to run, to transfer to another school. Some kids play at four different high schools in four years, but Merritt encouraged Jobe to stay the course.

He made his first career start in this year’s season opener against Duke, but didn’t start again for the rest of the regular season as Saban implied that he was hoping for more discipline and restraint from the sophomore cornerback.

“Josh Jobe had some struggles in the last game a little bit, got a couple of penalties, got a little too emotional,” Saban said in a September conference call. “But it came from maybe trying too hard.”

If his chances to start weren’t already gone a few weeks into the season, a broken hand and subsequent surgery on Oct. 3 confirmed it.

But with senior cornerback Trevon Diggs’ decision to skip Wednesday’s Citrus Bowl, Jobe appears back in line to start. Defensive coordinator Pete Golding and teammates said he’s improved his composure and will be ready to go. 

“I think he’s done a great job over the last two weeks … Locking in and focusing on his job and just controlling what he can control,” Golding said.

Nearly every person interviewed for this story said Jobe has been exceedingly appreciative of all of their help, from thanking Merritt for driving him to Alabama to thanking his teachers for tutoring him. 

All of them are quick to deflect the praise to Jobe, though, saying they had only a small part in his journey. They saw his resiliency, compassionate heart and desire to create a better life for himself and felt compelled to help.

“All of the people who have been so helpful and supportive in Josh’s growth and development — at the end of the day, Josh’s success is because of Josh,” Haggman said. “He was the one who really imagined taking his own path and [was] someone who was not willing to just follow the crowd. … There were so many obstacles and so many points where he could’ve gone a path of much less resistance. And he didn’t.”