Big Time: 5' 8" Sun Devils walk-on RJ Robinson overcomes obstacles, looks primed to make an impact
Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 1, 2011 12:09
Hype surrounds the Arizona State University football program this season.
Vontaze Burfict. Brock Osweiler. That offensive line bursting with experience.
But a team is often the sum of its parts. Some of those parts are easy to see – the massive engine and gears – that propel a program forward. And some of them are more precise, equally necessary, but not as flashy.
Some of those parts are like R.J. Robinson.
Those who follow the Sun Devils closely may know of the sophomore tailback, a local walk-on who was the captain of his high-school football and basketball teams at Westview High School in Avondale. They may even know he led the Sun Devils in rushing in the team's August 20 scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium.
But what they probably don't know is the how the 5' 8", 178-pound Robinson didn't let a lack of interest from major programs, or his size, stop him from earning a place on a college Football Bowl Subdivision team.
To hear those around Robinson tell it, failure was never an option. He knew he was capable.
"All that matters is if you have the heart to do what you want to do," R.J. said in a recent interview following a practice session. "And if you're driven to do it."
R.J. was born in Sacramento, California. He speaks little of his former neighborhood during a series of interviews in August. Moving to Arizona, he said, definitely helped kick start his career, though he believes that even if he had stayed in Sacramento he would have been successful because of the support of his family.
"It's tough to make it out of my neighborhood," he said. "There's a lot of things that can trap you into a hole."
Family has always been a huge part of his life.
"At a young age my dad started throwing the football at me and I liked the contact aspect," he said. "It was good that I always had him to push me through everything. I had fun playing and it was good having him get on me to work toward my goal."
R.J.'s father, Randy, beams with pride as he recalls how at an early age, R.J. took to sports. "I taught him to do back flips when he was 4," he said.
Randy says his son adapted well to any sport he put him in, starting with soccer. Randy, a high school football player himself, said he always hoped his son would take full advantage of his talents.
"I had a family at an early age and that kind of stopped me from fulfilling my dreams so I said [to him], ‘You are going to fulfill yours,'" said Randy, who lives in Avondale and drives to Tempe as often as he can to see his son play. "Work hard and you'll be in the pros one day."
It was at Westview High where R.J.'s talents really blossomed. He lettered in track and field, basketball and football three times, and baseball once. He holds a record with a 97-yard run from scrimmage. He racked up 1,204 rushing yards in 2006 and ran 283 yards in a single game.
Then there's his academics. He was a member of the National Honors Society, student government, the People to People organization, the Global Youth in America program and the ASU Med-Start program.
He's working on his degree in kinesiology.
"I figured that I wanted to be around some sort of sports in case I don't make it to the (National Football) League," R.J. said. "My backup is to become a sports medicine doctor so I can actually work on athletes."
R.J. also volunteers to feed the homeless with his congregation at Kingdom in the Valley Christian Church. It's one of his favorite things to do, he said, in addition to visiting with his family.
RJ's sister, Ralaina, said their grandmother, whom they called Madeda, played a large role in their commitment to community service; and that R.J. plays a big role in the life of his younger brother, Cory, 13.
R.J.'s "his teacher, his best friend and Cory looks up to him," Ralaina said. "They spend a lot of time together."
Sound too good to be true? His coaches speak equally high of R.J.
"He's funny. He's focused. He's an awesome student and brings a lot of positivity and determination," said Bryce Erickson, ASU's running backs coach. "He's a young man with a tremendous work ethic and he wants to be the best at everything he does, whether it's on the field or off."