KNOXVILLE -- Josh Dobbs and Alvin Kamara shared a backfield long before they wound up together at Tennessee.
The relationship between the starting quarterback and junior college transfer running back, who's been the key story for the Volunteers since he arrived in January, actually goes back about a decade. They came up through separate middle school football feeder systems in the Atlanta area and played against each other for three years.
After Tennessee's scrimmage Saturday at Neyland Stadium, Dobbs recalled one of their encounters as eighth-graders, when he was a blocker on his team's punt shield and Kamara was rushing off the edge trying to block it.
"I gave him a nice little block," the rising junior quarterback said. "We've always been competing since we were young, but it's always great to see a familiar face in the backfield, someone you've played with and played against, someone that you know very well. It's definitely great to have him up here."
After he turned in another strong performance Saturday, Kamara chuckled at the notion of thinking then that he and Dobbs would end up playing together in college.
"From little league when we're playing football, nobody's thinking SEC or playing in the SEC," the junior college transfer said. "When you end up at the same school as someone you played with that long ago, it's kind of funny. It's cool, really."
With Jalen Hurd, Tennessee's top rusher last season, limited to no contact this spring following offseason shoulder surgery, Dobbs and Kamara are getting plenty of time together in the Vols' backfield.
On the second play of 11-on-11 work Saturday, Kamara used his speed to reach the edge, turned upfield and raced down the sideline for what was probably about a 30-yard gain. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder, who began his college career at Alabama, finished that series by powering into the end zone from a yard out on fourth-and-goal.
"I love the way Alvin's been running all spring," right guard Jashon Robertson said. "We talked about it today. I told him we're going to come out here and you're going to get 150 yards rushing in the scrimmage, two touchdowns, 50 receiving yards, whatever. But he did a great job today running hard, being patient, letting us work and finish and strain."
Though they were zoned for different systems (Dobbs for Alpharetta and Kamara for Centennial) and played against each other in middle school, Dobbs and Kamara never faced each other in high school. They were, however, on the same team for an all-star game for the top juniors in Georgia in 2012.
Kamara joked that the 6-3 Dobbs "got tall out of nowhere" by the time they practiced and played together for the all-star game, and Dobbs knew then that Kamara possessed the talent he's flashed since coming to Tennessee.
"It was clear as day," Dobbs said.
For Tennessee coach Butch Jones, it was clear, too, from Kamara's highlight video what he could do on the field, but it's what the running back has done off the field that's perhaps surprised him the most.
"It's basically what we expected," Jones said. "What you see on video is what you see in person. He runs with very, very good body lean and a very good pad level. The things you don't see on video, though, has been great. You try to research every player that comes in your program, but our football team has embraced him.
"He's becoming a leader of this football team. He shows up with great consistency in approach every single day. We know what we're getting with him. He's very, very competitive. He had an ankle sprain on Thursday, and we were seeing if he goes, and he has his best practice."
Kamara believes his past with Dobbs will help them as Vols.
"I've known Josh since the fifth grade," he said. "Knowing him and being able to have that relationship with him, I think that helps a lot, too, because he kind of knows how I play, I know how he plays (and) I know what he's thinking. We'll just be able there communicating. If I see something, I'll tell him and he'll be like, 'Oh, yeah, I got you.'
"We're kind of right there on the same level."
When the 2015 season rolls around, Dobbs, Hurd and Kamara will be carrying the load for Tennessee's run game, and that's an exciting thought for the Vols.
"We definitely have an elusive backfield," Dobbs said. "Jalen showed what he can do out there, and Alvin will show what he can do back there. It's definitely exciting to have two dynamic backs with me, so I definitely can't complain."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.