The time had come for Jeff Noblin to give up football.
As an undrafted defensive back in the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp in 1987, Noblin could sense – and feel – that his playing days were quickly coming to an end. Fortunately, the Jackson, Miss., native and former Ole Miss Rebel standout had a rock-solid backup plan: medical school.
Noblin knew he had already been accepted to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine as he went through the drills that would determine his NFL future in Thousand Oaks, Calif., that summer. So with each passing day and each successive stinger shooting through his neck and arms when he made a tackle, Noblin began to carefully assess his situation.
With the clock ticking closer towards the start of med school and the roster numbers not adding up in his favor, Noblin went to legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry with a request.
“I knew I was probably going to play several preseason games and then get cut,” Noblin said. “About a week before medical school started I went and talked to coach Landry and said, ‘If you’re going to cut me, cut me now so I’ll at least have a few days off before med school starts.’ We had a good, fun talk about life, and he let me go. And I was probably one of the happiest people to be released from the NFL he had ever seen.”
Noblin, an All-Southeastern Conference performer for the Rebels as a senior in 1986 and two-time Academic All-American, believes he could have made it in the NFL if he had wanted to “wait tables for two or three years and keep scouting around to find the right team.” But after deciding to become an orthopaedic surgeon, he faced what he believed was an even greater challenge than playing on Sunday.
“I wanted to do something challenging, and I wanted to stay in sports because I love sports so much,” Noblin said. “Being an orthopaedic surgeon and doing sports medicine was probably the highest thing I could shoot for so that’s why I put it out ahead of me as my goal, probably after my junior year in college.
“I got a really nice signing bonus to go with the Cowboys and an NFL contract. I went to training camp with them and had a great experience. Then they released me, and I flew back home and lived happily ever after.”
Noblin’s happily ever after now includes his work with Bienville Orthopaedic Specialists, the largest orthopaedic practice on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Noblin and 15 other physicians provide extensive coverage to a six-county area, including sports medicine and athletic training coverage for nearly three dozen high schools in and around Biloxi, Miss. The practice also provides coverage for various sporting events and ventures in the area, including the Biloxi Shuckers, the Class AA Southern League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Noblin serves as team doctor.
Upon completion of medical school in 1996, Noblin completed a one-year fellowship with the Kansas City Chiefs and for 10 years after that served in a rotation with other doctors to provide medical coverage when the Chiefs went to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis each year and training camp each summer in Rivers Falls, Wis.
His happily ever after also includes his family. He and his wife, Sallie, whom he met at Ole Miss, have four children – Sam, 26, a former walk-on wide receiver at Ole Miss now in his second year of law school at Mississippi College in Jackson, Miss.; Ashley, 24, in her first year of medical school at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine; James, 20, a second-year engineering student at Mississippi State; and Blake, 16, a junior-to-be at Ocean Spring (Miss.) High School and emerging quarterback prospect.
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Blake made the rounds to quarterback camps at Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt this summer and could be a name you hear a lot in the coming years.
“He did real well in all the camps he went to,” Noblin said. “He fits the bill to do everything. It’s just a matter of getting the right breaks and the right people looking at you on the right night. It will be fun for the next couple of years seeing what he develops into and wants to do with it.”
After his senior year in 1986 Noblin, who had five career interceptions for the Rebels, received the SEC Scholar Athlete Award and NCAA and National Football Foundation Hall of Fame postgraduate scholarships. He is perhaps most proud that he put those scholarships to use to do something he loves.
“My message to people who come and shadow me is that it’s certainly worth going into a field that you have to spend a little more time getting there if you’re going to wake up every morning and enjoy what you do,” Noblin said. “I love what I do every day, which makes it worth the extra 10 years of school I went through to get it.”
And well worth walking away from football when he did. H&A
Cover photo courtesy Ole Miss Athletics