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Dartmouth Football Notes: Make Way for ‘Robot Guy’

  • Dartmouth College quarterback Derek Kyler, right, avoids a blocking bag thrown his way during an Oct. 4, 2017, practice on Memorial Field. Cole Douglas is at left. The Big Green hosts Yale for homecoming Saturday. Both Ivy League teams are 3-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College defensive tackle Davaron Stockman reaches for a ball during an Oct. 3, 2017, practice drill on the Blackman Fields. The Big Green hosts Yale for homecoming on Saturday. The Ivy League teams are each 3-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College receiver Emory Thompson, left, looks back for a pass while being covered by safety Colin Boit during an Oct. 3, 2017, practice on the Blackman Fields. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College defensive tackle Jackson Perry shouts during an Oct. 3, 2017, practice on the Blackman Fields. Perry, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound Las Vegas native, has been part of a unit that's held opponents to an average of 2.8 yards per attempt. The 3-0 Big Green hosts undefeated Yale on Saturday for homecoming. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Curt Oberg, special assistant to Dartmouth College football coach Buddy Teevens, drives one of the team's three Mobile Virtual Player robotic tackling dummies via remote control on Oct. 4, 2017. Oberg, a former Big Green running back, has become expert at piloting the MVPs and was moving them from the Blackman Practice Fields to Memorial Field. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College offensive tackle Matt Kaskey. (Mark Washburn photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, October 06, 2017

Hanover — “Make way for ducklings.”

That’s the phrase Dartmouth College football assistant coach Curt Oberg likes to utter when someone comments on his ability to pilot two of the team’s Mobile Virtual Player robotic tackling dummies at the same time.

The slightly wobbly black devices wheel along in front of Oberg as he walks, remote controls in hand, calling to his mind the title of a popular 1941 children’s book about baby waterfowl. Oberg, special assistant to head coach Buddy Teevens, played with the boss at Dartmouth during the late 1970s and unintentionally fell into the role of MVP driver.

“I’m the Robot Guy,” Oberg, a onetime investment executive, said with a laugh. “It’s a little surprising because I’m an older guy without a lot of video game experience. I used to have to be standing right behind it to make it do what I wanted, but now I can get it to go in all sorts of directions from anywhere.”

The MVPs, developed at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and now selling to high school, college and pro teams for roughly $8,000 each, feature additional speed, agility and durability as newer models emerge. The Big Green uses them in most practices, not just for tackling, but to simulate pass rushers, receivers in motion, etc.

Although Oberg sometimes drives the dummies back and forth across Park Street between Memorial Field and the Blackman Practice Fields, he said it’s not ideal. Their wheels and undercarriages wear faster on asphalt and gravel. So, whenever possible, the MVPs ride in a trailer towed by an all-terrain vehicle.

Oberg, one of those people who never seems to have a bad day, occasionally makes his days even better by quietly maneuvering a dummy alongside unsuspecting bystanders. Victims turn away from a conversation and often jump when they discover an MVP parked at their shoulder. There also have been a few instances of practice spectators taking an intentional, rubberized “hit” on the sidelines.

“You can creep right up to people,” Oberg said. “It spooks them out. But sometimes we’ll also have (the dummies) go say hi to recruits and their parents. They love that.”

When Dartmouth defensive players drift out to Memorial Field shortly before practice, they all head to the “D” stitched into its center and drop to a knee, heads bowed for a few moments. Religious reflection? No, said defensive coordinator Don Dobes, who’s asked his troops to perform the action since he arrived in 2010.

“It becomes a habit like tying your shoes,” said Dobes, a big part of the 3-0 Big Green’s success. Dartmouth hosts undefeated Yale on Saturday afternoon for homecoming. “That D stands for defense, discipline, devotion, dedication and details.

“The guys go there to say thanks for being able to play at Dartmouth and to remember those who helped them get here and all the hard work that went into it.”

Dartmouth is averaging 5.3 yards per rushing attempt and doing so without a marquee running back. Ryder Stone leads with 249 yards, and multi-threat quarterback Jared Gerbino is at 126. However, Rashaad Cooper, thought to be on the verge of a breakout season, played one game and may not return this season because of injury.

That leaves the line as the obvious reason for the Big Green’s ground success. It generally features tackles Matt Kaskey and Ben Hagaman, guards Jack Anderson and John Kilcommons and center Patrick Kilcommons. Phil Berton has been the version of basketball’s sixth man, able to substitute at all three positions.

The line was mangled by injuries during last fall’s 4-6 campaign, which featured a 1-6 Ivy League record and a last-place finish. The silver lining, however, is that younger backups gained valuable, albeit sometimes costly, experience. Now, a group that sometimes struggled with basic assignments and footwork last year has evolved into a precise unit that’s reading the defense and anticipating its moves.

When you’re confident, you can come off the ball harder, line coach Keith Clark said. He’s also noticed that his starters have learned to accept constructive criticism and to be tougher on themselves.

Kaskey, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound junior, may have grown up the most, going from goofy and petulant to an even-keeled, consistent performer protecting quarterback Jack Heneghan’s blind side.

“He’s shelved his ego a bit,” Clark said. “He comes out here with a more serious outlook, and he doesn’t feel that every play is a personal battle, a challenge to his masculinity.”

Said Kaskey: “Having a stable lineup is good, but honestly, we have chemistry between our top 10 guys on the line. When you first get here, you switch all over the place until you find your spot. You settle in at one, but you still have that knowledge from before.”

Notes: Dartmouth sophomore receiver Drew Estrada missed last season because of injury. He’s rushed 12 times for 74 yards, primarily out of the jet sweep formation, in which he moves in motion behind the line and takes a handoff in front of the quarterback. … Dartmouth sports information director Rick Bender reports that, prior to last week’s victory at Pennsylvania, the last time the Big Green won a game as time expired was in 1971 against Harvard. … Dartmouth and Yale also were undefeated when they met in Hanover during the 2015 season’s fourth game. The hosts won, 35-3, en route to a share of their first Ivy League title since 1997. … Heneghan has completed 69 percent of his passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns and has not had a toss intercepted. Last week’s 23-of-30 effort for 199 yards and a touchdown was the most accurate outing of the senior’s two-year starting career. … Seven different Dartmouth defenders have at least one sack. … Yale has scored at least 41 points in its three games, beating Lehigh, Cornell and Fordham. … Sixth-season Yale coach Tony Reno is 27-26 with the Bulldogs and 1-4 against Dartmouth, the victory coming last season. … The game will be streamed live on ESPN3.com. … Dartmouth overcame 11 penalties for 105 yards last week but since 1972, the Big Green is 12-3 in games during which it has accumulated at least 100 yards in fouls. The team is 29-8-1 in contests during which it’s committed 10 or more penalties. ... Dartmouth has won its last two games by a combined four points. The last time the Big Green won back-to-back clashes by a margin that small was during 1982. The only other occurrence was in 1947. The record for fewest combined points during a three-game winning streak was set during 1971, when it was done by eight points. … Reno’s brother, Domenic, is the football strength coach at Purdue. … Teevens said Sunday’s junior varsity game with visiting Williams has been canceled because the Ephs ran out of available healthy players. That leaves an Oct. 29 contest at Harvard as the lone remaining game on the reserves’ docket.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.