The Rise of Allen Robinson

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Allen Robinson was just a three-star recruit coming out of St. Mary Preparatory School in Orchard Lake, Mich. three years ago. He received interest from only six schools: Toledo, Minnesota, Michigan State, Buffalo, Bowling Green, and Penn State.

Michigan State and Bowling Green opted not to give Robinson an offer, leaving the Nittany Lions as the only big name program on his list. He committed to Penn State in November of 2010. He arrived quietly, netting just three receptions for 29 yards in his freshman season.

But Penn State lost a number of receivers to graduation, transfers, and disciplinary dismissals after that year. With a new coach at the helm in Bill O’Brien and quarterback Matt McGloin set to break out, Robinson entered 2012 as the team’s top receiver and quickly showed the world just how good he is.

Almost three years after that November day in 2010, just about every college football team in the nation would love to have Robinson on their roster as he’s become one of the best receivers in the nation.
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Robinson blew away the season receptions record set by Bobby Engram – arguably the best wide receiver in Penn State history – and O.J. McDuffie by hauling in 77 catches in 2012 with 1,013 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. All of those numbers led the Big Ten. Robinson essentially went from being a non-factor in the offense to the conference’s best receiver over the course of one offseason.

Those numbers are great, but Robinson is on an even better pace this season with freshman Christian Hackenberg throwing him the ball. O’Brien credits Robinson’s hard work over the summer for his outstanding start to the 2013 season.

“Allen Robinson is a very smart guy,” O’Brien said. “He’s very football smart and he’s very smart off the field. He’s just an intelligent guy. He really worked hard this offseason to improve his individual skill set.”

“He came back with better knowledge of the offense,” he added. “He worked extremely hard on his own game, getting stronger, getting faster, and getting quicker. He worked hard with Christian when he arrived here. You have to give him a lot of credit for the year he’s having. He’s done a really good job to date this year.”

The smarts that O’Brien mentioned show up all game long. Robinson certainly has the physical size necessary to be a great receiver at 6-3 and 201 pounds. But it’s Robinson’s skill set and mental adeptness combined with his size that allows him to seemingly get open consistently, no matter how many double-teams the opposition throws his way. With Robinson’s improved skill set comes to ability to play at new spots on the field this year.

“I think in our scheme, we’ve moved him around so he’s become smarter in it,” O’Brien said. “Last year he played mostly on the outside but now he plays everywhere. He plays No. 3, No. 2, he plays No. 1 weak, No. 1 strong. [We] put him in the backfield a little bit. He just has a lot better knowledge of our scheme and all the credit goes to him.”

Robinson is tough as nails too. He’ll play through pain if he has to because of how important the game is to him. Last Saturday against Indiana, Robinson went up for a catch in the end zone and landed hard on his hip. He was down on the field and then on the sideline, visibly grimacing in pain for minutes. But he found his way back on the field and is ready to go for Michigan this weekend.

“I just wanted to try and make a play on the ball and I came down pretty hard. I’m just a little sore but not too sore to dress,” Robinson said. “With the team, everybody has to show up when their number is called. Everybody has to make plays.”

Robinson is right. Everybody does have to make plays. But he seems to make a lot more of them than anyone else on the Nittany Lion’s offense. At his current pace, Robinson would finish the season with 91 catches for 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns, numbers that would engrave his name in the Penn State record books. He’s leading fan voting for the Biletnikoff Award – which is given to the nation’s top receiver – for good reason.

With the exception of the Kent State game, in which the pass game struggled along with Robinson, he has been absolutely stellar through five games this season. Robinson has four 100+ yard performances with at least seven receptions and a touchdown in each. Despite a loss against Indiana, Robinson hauled in 12 balls for 173 yards and two touchdowns.

Hopefully Robinson can keep that up on Saturday when the Michigan Wolverines come to town for a night game at Beaver Stadium. Robinson, a Michigan native, said that the school “really didn’t have too much interest in me.”

They did, however, have interest in linebacker James Ross III, a high school teammate of Robinson’s. The two will be lining up against each other for the first time on Saturday. The two have been talking a lot, but Robinson says their conversations haven’t been about the game.

“It’s not always about football,” Robinson said. “We didn’t talk too much about the game coming up.”

Another topic that Robinson has avoided is the NFL Draft. Robinson is considering a top wide receiver prospect for the 2015 draft, but he would most likely be a top prospect if he decided to declare after he graduates at the end of this year. That’s right, Robinson is on track to graduate a year early as a junior.

“That’s something I’m not even thinking about right now,” Robinson said about declaring for the draft.

One thing is for certain: The Nittany Lions would welcome him back with open arms if he wanted to play a fourth season at Penn State. Whenever any player is asked about the standout wide receiver, they can’t help but speak glowingly about Robinson’s play.

“He’s a great player. A team-first guy,” center Ty Howle said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to win.”

Let’s hope he does a lot more winning as a Penn State Nittany Lion.

Photo By: Dave Cole
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Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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