When JMU football took to the field against NC State on Sept. 1, 2018, fans didn’t expect the team to be without the CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Just hours before kickoff, news broke that then-senior cornerback Rashad Robinson would miss the entire 2018 season with a foot injury. Questions swirled about how the Dukes’ defense would handle the loss of a player who accumulated numerous preseason accolades, ranging from STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award preseason watch list to STATS FCS First Team Preseason All-American.
However, behind players like cornerback Jimmy Moreland, the secondary did just fine. Now, with Robinson back for his redshirt senior year, the Dukes’ pass defense is set to remain strong. It’s been a lot of work for Robinson to get back, but what he put in will benefit the team in multiple phases.
“Rehab, rehab and rehab,” Robinson said. “The training staff did a great job with me. We set up a good plan to get me back 100 percent. I did a lot of rehab and just worked back slowly but surely to get back 100 percent.”
Robinson won’t be confined to a brace for this coming season, and feels healthy and ready to go. While the thought of his injury still lingers in the back of his mind, he’s more concerned with getting adjusted to the new coaching staff.
After a stellar season from Moreland that saw him haul in five interceptions, three of which were brought back for touchdowns, the Dukes will need a player like Robinson to keep JMU’s secondary dominant.
If the honors Robinson has to his name aren’t enough to show why JMU’s defense won’t suffer a drop-off, then his stats will. During his junior campaign, Robinson had 51 tackles, 16 passes defended, seven interceptions and one forced fumble.
“Rashad Robinson has played a lot of good football,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “He’s got great habits on and off the field. He works hard, he’s a good role model for the young guys and I’m sure it was very devastating for him last year … [this year is] a chance for him to get a year older, a little stronger, quicker and a little bit more knowledgeable, so he can come back and have a great fifth year.”
It’s been a long journey back to the field for Robinson. Over the last six months, the Richmond, Virginia, native has spent countless hours in the gym keeping his strength up while rehabbing from his foot injury.
After watching Robinson dedicate his time to getting healthy, his teammates are ready to have him back. Rising redshirt senior defensive lineman Ron’Dell Carter witnessed Robinson’s devotion to the team and knows that it’s still going to be there when he steps onto the field.
“He’s coming off a big season and [then] he had to literally be a leader,” Carter said. “It’s kinda hard to tell an athlete to sit still, so now you just see him on the sidelines being as supportive as he can be and it was good for him to do that because you knew when he came back out here he was itching to get back out.”
While sidelined, Robinson acted as almost another cornerbacks coach for the team. Though Moreland was an experienced option at the position, the rest of the group was relatively young and needed players to look to on what it meant to be an athlete at the college level.
It was a role Robinson easily fit. The redshirt senior made the effort to let his younger teammates know that they needed to devote time to watching film and working on their technique.
“At first, [the injury] was the toughest thing I think I’ve ever had to endure,” Robinson said. “As the season went on, I just tried to think about that as God’s plan [and] just try to coach the young guys up.”
Though Robinson filled a role as a mentor on the sideline last year, he’s eager to take that job onto the field this season. It wasn’t easy for him being restricted to the sidelines while watching his teammates and friends play.
He’s healthy, and he’s ready.
“Very excited [for West Virginia],” Robinson said. “Having the chance to play against an FBS opponent of that caliber and then for myself just the opportunity to come back on August 31, I’m just so excited.”
Contact Catie Harper at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.