Despite a 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame, Morgan State outside linebacker Christopher Robinson was a novice in the weight room during his first year at the university, and that inexperience showed during a session with Josh Bush, the strength and conditioning coach.
"One time, he had to correct me because I was doing it in the wrong fashion. I was truly eager to get into the weight room," Robinson recalled. "But one thing that I did show was that I wanted to get to college and I wanted to get bigger. I wanted to get strong, I wanted to get more explosive, I wanted to get more flexible. That was going to help my game and help me reach the acme of my game."
That drive has helped the Baltimore native and Dunbar graduate carve out a prominent role for the Bears, who are eager to make amends for last year's 3-8 overall record and 2-6 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
As a redshirt sophomore last season, Robinson led the team in sacks (8½) and tackles for loss (13½) and ranked second in forced fumbles. This past June, he was one of 38 players to earn a spot on the College Football Performance Awards watch list.
The accolades are somewhat surprising when you consider that Robinson is a walk-on. After graduating from Dunbar, Robinson accumulated enough scholarship money and financial aid to attend Morgan State, but he was not recruited by the school. Undeterred, Robinson made an appointment with coach Donald Hill-Eley and asked for a chance to make an impression.
"When you first look at the kids when they come in, you try to project where they could be. Looking at him, I figured by his junior or senior year, he'd be able to help us out on special teams," Hill-Eley said. "But I knew that with his attitude, he was a kid we wanted to be part of our program. Not all of them are starters, but for some, just the camaraderie alone helps them and their participation helps us. I couldn't have told you that he would be leading the nation at some point last year in sacks or leading the conference. But it's just a testimony that hard work pays off. Everything goes to him because he took advantage of all the things that we have — from the conditioning to the film studies and everything else — to develop himself."
Said Robinson: "I didn't want football to end after Dunbar. I truly loved this game, and that was a fear of mine, of football just being over. So I just gave it a shot."
SAT scores just shy of the minimum for academic eligibility forced Robinson to sit out the 2010 season, and he missed the 2011 campaign to add more weight. Last season, he registered at least a half-sack in each of the seven games in which he played.
That production may have surprised many observers, but not junior defensive back Nathan Ayers.
"I just knew it was going to take some time," said Ayers, who has known Robinson since their days at Dunbar. "We always say that hard work never goes unnoticed, and he's been working hard ever since he walked on. I've always told him to keep working, and that's how it happened. The coaches started seeing it on film, and they said, 'We've got to find a way to get this kid on the field.' So I was not shocked at all."
After his breakthrough rookie campaign, Robinson is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. While adding pass defense responsibilities to his plate, Robinson is fully aware of the expectations people outside of the program have for him.
"The biggest thing to me is not me as an individual. It's about us winning," he said. "If God allows us to win and we go out there and do what we're coached to do, that would satisfy me. I can't get into what expectations others have for me. It's not about that. The MEAC picked us to finish 10th [in the conference]. If I was to go off of that, I would feel real bad regardless of if I did well or not. So I don't really worry about me as an individual. I just try to do my part."
Robinson has stepped into a starring role while blossoming into a strong student. A "C" student at Dunbar, Robinson now carries a 3.53 GPA and was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society last April.
"Every day is a workday," Robinson, a physical education major who would like to pursue a career in coaching or strength and conditioning, said of juggling football and schoolwork. "So I'm taking pride in the academia and I'm taking pride in the athletics because I want to represent Morgan. So after I go off from Morgan, I'm trying to represent Morgan in everything."
The Bears are counting on Robinson to represent on the field as well, especially when they open the season at Army this Friday. Robinson, who has three more years of eligibility, has the potential to be one of the school's best outside linebackers, according to Hill-Eley.
"You can't project how good he's going to be," Hill-Eley said. "Christopher is going to be just as good as he works because he's one of those ones where he creates his own world, and he can be just as good as he wants to be. I think if anybody makes the suggestion that he's going to do this or he's going to do that, they will create his world. Most guys peak because of what you've seen. Chris, you give him the job and he will fit himself to the job. You don't have to tell him. He's going to make it fit."
Outlook: On the heels of a third consecutive season with a losing record, the program did not garner much respect from its peers in the MEAC, who picked the Bears to finish 10th in the conference's preseason poll. That evaluation may have something to do with the team opening the upcoming season with four consecutive games on the road and playing only four of 12 contests at home. Morgan State faces another challenge in attempting to fill gaps created by the departure of seven starters on both sides of the ball. Redshirt junior quarterback Robert Council should be more experienced under center and junior quarterback Seth Higgins adds a rushing element, but the running game must find a successor to Travis Davidson, who carried the ball 206 times for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns. The defense will rely on defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Christopher Robinson (8½ sacks in 2012) to headline the pass rush and senior cornerback Joseph Rankin (five interceptions) to patrol the secondary. But the unit has to find a way to trim the 29.7 points and 402.9 yards per game opponents enjoyed last season.