Former touted recruit set to play Gophers

Minnesota recruited Willie Mobley out of Eden Prairie High School, but Mobley chose elsewhere.

Nate Gotlieb

New Mexico State defensive lineman Willie Mobley was a nationally recruited defensive lineman at Eden Prairie High School. 

About six years and four college stops later, Mobley, 24, will take the field this Saturday against the Gophers — a team that once heavily recruited him.

“It’s kind of crazy how it all worked,” Mobley said.

Mobley was a highly touted recruit as a junior at Eden Prairie. He helped the Eagles to back-to-back state championships his junior and senior seasons and was one of the highest-ranked recruits in the state.

During that time, Mobley narrowed his college search to two schools — Ohio State and Minnesota. 

Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant said he encouraged Mobley to attend Minnesota, but Mobley said he chose Ohio State because of his visit to the campus.

Mobley’s mom, Roxanne Golbabie, said Ohio State was also recruiting some of his friends. She said the school also offered strong academic support.

“While he was in high school, [Ohio State] came to Minnesota once a week,” she said. “They just wanted to make sure he did well in school, and that kind of appealed to Willie.”

Mobley traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for his first year of college, but he injured his shoulder on the first day of practice.

He redshirted the 2008 season. 

That year, family issues prompted Mobley to rethink his college decision. His mom was having financial and health difficulties and decided to move to California to escape the cold weather.

In response, Mobley attempted to enroll at UCLA, but his credits from Ohio State didn’t transfer.

“Everything just fell apart,” Golbabie said. “Coming from Ohio State, he expected all his credits to transfer, and unfortunately they didn’t. And at the last minute, he was informed [UCLA] could not get him in.”

Mobley enrolled at Orange Coast College in 2009 and didn’t play football that season. He wanted to get back on a football scholarship, Golbabie said, but he had to earn an associate degree to do so.

She said Mobley was 41 credits short of the degree when he enrolled at Orange Coast but earned it in two semesters and transferred to Arizona.

Mobley played sparingly during the 2010 season at Arizona, finishing with seven tackles, including a half-sack. He injured his knee the next spring and sat out the 2011 season.

He returned for the 2012 season, recording 20 tackles as the Wildcats went 8-5.  He graduated with an economics degree after the fall semester and could have played one more season at Arizona, but head coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t renew his scholarship, Golbabie said.

NMSU expressed interest in Mobley, and five weeks into the spring 2013 semester, he enrolled in a master’s program there. Still, Mobley needed to obtain a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA to play football in 2013 — a process Golbabie said took about four months. 

Earlier this summer, the NCAA cleared Mobley to play, she said.

NMSU head coach Doug Martin said Mobley has brought experience to the defense and his personality has endeared him to the team.

“I think he was really well-received here,” Martin said.

Mobley played his first game with the Aggies last Saturday, recording three tackles in a 56-7 loss to Texas.   

Mobley wants to become an entrepreneur after he graduates, Golbabie said.

“He doesn’t regret any of it,” she said of his circuitous college path.  “He’s so much stronger and so much more on the right track in knowing exactly what it is he wants in life.”