Senior quarterback's patience is rewarded
He first played wide receiver, flanker, running back and slotback.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It was not the kind of Saturday night television Michael Robinson had in mind.
But there he was on a hospital bed in Madison, Wis., last Sept. 25, watching himself being carried off the Camp Randall Stadium field on a stretcher, his head immobilized, the raucous Badger crowd suddenly silent. He had taken a helmet-to-helmet blow from Erasmus James, the fierce Wisconsin defensive end.
"I still think about it," the Penn State senior quarterback said. "I think about how the next play could be my last, about how all this can be taken away in an instant."
Eventually, Robinson's head stopped spinning from the concussion he'd suffered. But when he returned to play three weeks later, he was still a superb athlete without a full-time position on the merry-go-round set in motion by coach Joe Paterno.
Wide receiver, flanker, running back, slotback, quarterback. Robinson did it all during his first three seasons at Penn State, at times in the same game. He had chosen Penn State because he was promised he'd be a quarterback. Then reality set in. At receiver, he was better than the rest. At running back, he was better than the rest. He played quarterback now and then but never long enough to get a firm grip on the position.
Being a team player
All the while, Robinson put up a happy front. Yeah, he'd say, he wanted to play quarterback full time, but he was always willing to do what was needed of him.
"He hated it, man. He hated it, but that's the kind of team player he is," said cornerback Alan Zemaitis, a captain along with Robinson and junior linebacker Paul Posluszny. "But he does whatever it takes, and that's a credit to his character. I know I couldn't have been bumped around like that. I don't know many guys who could have taken it. But he took it. That's a hell of a man."
Robinson did near a breaking point. He thought seriously of transferring after the 2002 season. Home in Richmond, Va., between semesters, he was besieged by friends, telling him that he'd made a mistake going to Penn State, that he should have picked Virginia Tech.
"Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech -- that's all I heard," he said. "But every morning I'd wake up and the sky was blue. So Penn State it is.
"Besides," he added, "I have friends at Virginia Tech who told me they were going to play me at defensive back, that they'd lied to me about playing quarterback."
Finding his niche
When Penn State opened practice for the 2005 season, Robinson was set to be the starting quarterback. For him, the merry-go-round has finally come to a stop, his perseverance rewarded.
Robinson realizes he's not exactly the people's choice for the position. His detractors cite his career stats: 86-for-194 (44.3 percent), six touchdowns, 11 interceptions.
Behind Robinson is the highly touted, strong-armed Anthony Morelli, pride of Western Pennsylvania. Typically, Penn State's followers favor their own.
Robinson played quarterback full-time in the spring, adjusting his mechanics, thoroughly engrossed in the quarterback mind-set. He shed 16 pounds, down to 217, for better endurance.
In April's Blue-White Game, he completed all six passes he threw. For now, though, all that's certain is that he'll be the most dangerous runner the Nittany Lions have ever had at the position, and he'll be the unquestioned team leader.
"I know my role now," he said. "I always had a problem trying to be an influence on the team when I didn't even know my own role. It got tough. But [Paterno] kept telling me to hang in there, that whether it's on the field or in life, you get paid back for being patient."