COLLEGE PARK—— What Maryland fans saw was Matt Robinson sprinting from his safety position to behind the line of scrimmage, sidestepping a blocker, and slamming his torso against the shoulder of Miami running back Mike James before tumbling to the ground.
James momentarily remained on his feet, then fumbled after a hit by Terps cornerback Cameron Chism. The ball was grabbed out of the air by defensive lineman Joe Vellano, who scored a Maryland touchdown in last season's opening-game win over the Hurricanes.
In his third season at Maryland, Robinson is intimately familiar with football injuries. But it is a part of the game largely hidden to spectators — the sweat, the gnawing pain, the daily treatments and rehabilitation.
Robinson, now fighting a new shoulder injury that will keep him out of this season's opener against William & Mary, pushed past his discomfort against the Hurricanes to continue to play.
Sitting in the parents' section, his mother, Maryland District Court Judge Pamila Brown of Howard County, was among the few in the stands last season with an inkling that something was wrong.
"I thought that on one of his tackles he was favoring that arm. A parent noticed that," Brown said. "But then the rest of the game I didn't see anything. He just seems to have a strong constitution to be able to work through pain to get to the end of the game."
Robinson (Atholton), a redshirt sophomore, had 13 tackles in each of Maryland's next two games against West Virginia and Temple. He was ailing by the end of the Temple game, but Terps coach Randy Edsall said Robinson didn't want to leave the game.
"It was excruciating. I just saw the look on his face," his mother said.
"He's the kind of guy I like," Edsall said. "The good thing is, we'll still have him for three years [because he obtained a medical redshirt]. He lays it on the line for Maryland, he lays it on the line for his teammates."
But it sure isn't easy.
Maryland players must balance football practices, games and team meetings with classes and studying.
Injuries such as Robinson's throw off the delicate rhythm of their schedules.
Several weeks after the Miami game, Robinson woke up to a memorably awful day — a morning exam in a plant science class followed by afternoon surgery so his injuries would heal correctly.
The doctors had told Robinson he couldn't eat before his surgery at Kernan Hospital. But the player was worried about being lightheaded while taking the test.
"I went to the exam and I snuck chewing some gum in there, and that pretty much got me over it. That was a pretty tough class," Robinson said.
The surgery was successful. The bad news is that the player, a criminal justice major who takes his studies seriously, fared poorly on the exam. "I think I got a D," he said.
Said his mother: "That was the hardest day for him. Matt is a good student and there was the fear of not doing well."
Robinson dislocated his other shoulder — the left — during practice last week. He is wearing a harness to keep the shoulder locked into place but expects to be practicing by the season's second week.
When healthy, Robinson teams with senior free safety Eric Franklin (Archbishop Curley) to give the Terps an imposing presence in the defensive backfield.
Robinson is 6 feet 3 and played basketball in high school, and Franklin is just an inch shorter. Seeing over the top of them can be an issue for opposing quarterbacks.
"Maryland must love big safeties," Robinson said with a smile. Previous Maryland safeties, including Kenny Tate, who is now a linebacker, have also been larger than average for the position.
Maryland's 2011 season was buried under the weight of injuries, inexperience and poor tackling. Robinson and at least six other defensive starters spent time on the sidelines. The team finished 2-10.
This preseason, Robinson has been injured, defensive end Andre Monroe (knee) is out for the year, and Tate is getting checked for a left leg problem.
"It is really rough because it's almost like deja vu," Robinson said.
But Robinson can't imagine this year's injury toll will approximate last season's. He is optimistic by nature — a trait that helps him battle through his own ailments.
"We've got a lot of young guys who are going to have to step up and carry the weight from the beginning of the season," Robinson said. "I think it's still going to be pretty exciting because our 'D' is pretty fast."
Says his mother: "He says adversity makes you stronger. That's his motto."