Tucson's Treasures

Tucson’s Treasures: Jay Dobyns

AllSportsTucson.com is running a series of stories on Tucson sports figures who have impacted the community.

Jay Dobyns will be a first-year head coach at Tanque Verde this fall (Tanque Verde photo)

Jay Dobyns has carried meaningful labels in his life — son, student, worker, husband, father, football player, federal agent, author, motivational speaker and coach.

Storyteller is another description for Dobyns with all the experiences he has encountered in his 58 years on this Earth. Here is one story he e-mailed me regarding a memorable experience he had as a freshman receiver at Arkansas after he graduated from Sahuaro in 1980.

This is a story for young people who are undersized or under-skilled but overachievers.  I told this to a friend yesterday and thought you might enjoy it.

1980: Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I went to our indoor facility every morning, rain or shine, before class to do ball drills.  If I couldn’t recruit a quarterback, I had a bag of tennis balls that I would throw against the wall to catch bounce-backs every possible angle — laying, jumping, upside down, etc.  Frank Broyles, the college football icon, had moved from coach to athletic director.  Coach Broyles would hit golf balls into a net every morning at the same time.  I never approached him.  I was intimidated by his reputation and legacy. After a couple of weeks of this, Coach Broyles walks over and with his Southern twang said, “Son, if you are going to be here, and if I am going to be here, we might as well kill two birds with one stone.”  The next day, he showed up with bag of wiffle golf balls.  He would hit them at me and I would catch them, or try to.  Those suckers spin and dipped like a Niekro knuckleball.  It was a great drill.  I always enjoyed the process to improve but to experience a portion of it with Coach Broyles was pretty dang cool.

Dobyns, 6-foot-2, was all of 170 pounds at that time. The legendary late Broyles, who won a national title with Arkansas in 1964 and is in the College Football Hall of Fame, must have seen in Dobyns what Tucsonans have learned about him over the last four decades.

Crafty. Resourceful. Tenacious. Relentless. Tough. Tireless. Encouraging.

Jay Dobyns celebrates his winning touchdown against UCLA in 1983 (Dobyns photo of Tucson Citizen front page)

Dobyns transferred to Arizona after his one year at Arkansas and played three years under Larry Smith from 1982-84. He developed into an All-Pac-10 player and one of the top badasses in Arizona history — a fearless possession receiver who hauled in mid-range passes over the middle, taking full brunt of hits from linebackers and strong safeties.

“Every Saturday, a kid who barely weighs 170 pounds dripping wet goes over the middle for us. I know this Jay is a tough, reckless, S.O.B. After games, he looks like he’s been run over by a train,” the late Smith said in an interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat in 1984. “I personally think he enjoys taking the defenses’ best shot just so he can get up and laugh at them.” 

RELATED FROM 2016: Solid like a rock — Jay Dobyns inspired by son Jack amid tumultuous undercover agent career

Dobyns, alias Jaybird, became an ATF agent in 1987, only three years after playing his last game with the Wildcats. As a rookie agent only four days on the job, Dobyns was taken hostage in a sting operation and shot through the chest in the desert near Sahuarita. A year later, he was run over by gangsters in a getaway car. Just like those safeties who failed to jar Dobyns with vicious tackles, the criminals could not stop him.

After serving as an assistant football coach at Salpointe from 2009 to 2019 — which included four years of coaching his son Jack — he was hired in December as the head coach at Tanque Verde High School.

Dobyns posted this week on Facebook this message to his team at Tanque Verde with a photo of himself as a Sahuaro receiver:

Newspaper clipping of Jay Dobyns while at Sahuaro in 1979.

This is when I was your age, high school, 17. I was never the best player on any of the teams I played on. I was never the biggest, strongest, fastest or most talented. But, I was able to find success. Why? My teammates! I was always surrounded by others – much better football players than I was – who lifted me, helped me, encouraged me, inspired me. Who are you and who do you want to be? Find your role. Embrace it. Then use it to help others.

During Love of Reading Week in February, Dobyns did not hesitate when I asked him to read to our students at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate Magnet School, where I am a teacher.

Dobyns read heartfelt excerpts from his books No Angel and Raising Hell describing his dad’s last days and about a kid in Africa he befriended and made an impression on him during his law enforcement career as a federal agent.

Jay Dobyns speaking and reading to students at Gallego Intermediate during Love of Reading Week (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Dobyns became emotional with both stories, which brought him closer to the young audience.

He took question after question about his undercover agent career, and the kids sought advice for completing a book. They benefited most from his strong, forceful voice about being self-confident and determined to write their own life story literally and figuratively.

“Your parents may try to motivate you,” he said. “Your teachers will try to motivate you. But, hey, you must motivate yourself.” 


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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