Georgia’s Robinson begins transition from player to coach

semerson@macon.comNovember 22, 2012 

ATHENS -- Somewhere along the line, Christian Robinson found peace with it. He realized he wasn’t the best player on Georgia’s defense. He knew he wasn’t even a starter anymore. He understood why.

It didn’t dampen his ultimate dream. In fact, it might have helped it.

Robinson will walk with the rest of the Georgia football team’s seniors Saturday as they are honored in their final home game. When Robinson is announced, he will be greeted by his father Kenneth, who, besides being a former college player himself, has been a high school coach.

Someday, and that day is likely to be sooner than later, Christian Robinson wants to be a coach, like his father. The past couple of years, both the trials and triumphs, probably will make him a better coach.

Two years ago, Robinson was a starter as a sophomore, a key member of the defense. Last year, he started the season as the captain of the defense. But since then he has been passed on the depth chart by younger, bigger players. He also had to endure being essentially called out by fellow senior Shawn Williams for not being good enough to play.

“I’ve been a part of many different teams: Good teams, bad teams, many different styles,” he said. “I think everything is gonna help me down the road, learning how to deal with adversity, learning how to deal with stuff in-house, out-of-house. What I’ve seen and what I’ve learned from the coaches here is block out the noise and focus on what you can control.”

Robinson’s story is actually ending at Georgia on a high note. He reclaimed his long-lost starting spot last week and could start again Saturday. It’s more of a match-up decision. Robinson’s knowledge in defending the triple-option is valued by the coaches.

It was knowledge that got Robinson ahead in the first place. When Todd Grantham came aboard as defensive coordinator in 2010, many players had trouble picking up Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.

But Robinson got it fairly quickly. That was a big reason he got so much playing time as a sophomore and the early part of his junior year.

“It’s just football smarts,” said quarterback Aaron Murray, one of Robinson’s closest friends on the team. “He picked up Coach Grantham’s defense, which is extremely hard, he picked it up pretty fast. I think he was one of the first guys to learn the whole defense, to know all the checks. And I know everybody on the defense trusts him when he makes the calls.”

These days, it’s almost hard to remember how important a player Robinson was at one point. He started 11 times in 2010. He started the first four games last year, racking up a career-high 13 tackles against Boise State in the opener.

But Alec Ogletree, the other inside linebacker, got hurt in that Boise State game, allowing Mike Gilliard a shot for playing time. Then, a few games later, Robinson got hurt, allowing Amarlo Herrera to get an extended look. Robinson only missed a couple of games, but by the time he was back Gilliard was past him on the depth chart. By the start of this season, so was Herrera.

So until last week, Robinson was mostly just playing on passing downs.

“It’s been a ‘get in where you fit in’ type thing,” Robinson said. “The coaches have always done a great job since I got here of putting me in where they think I can be successful and can help.”

Robinson thinks he has also helped in ways that don’t show up in the stat sheet. That might mean covering somebody, allowing Jarvis Jones to make a sack or being in the right spot to lead the offense another way. In some of his best games, he says, he didn’t even register a tackle.

“I come from a coaches family, and those types of things win games,” Robinson said. “If I came here for stats, I’d probably be dissatisfied. But what we’ve done this year, and what we have the opportunity to do, I’ll take that over tackles.”

It also has served as Robinson’s apprenticeship. Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will sometimes stop a meeting and say, “Christian, when you’re a coach someday ...”

“He’s just very good at identifying things and trying to communicate it with his teammates,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He’s always there with a smile on his face and ready to go to work. He’s just a great guy.”

Robinson’s father, who played for a year-and-a-half in the NFL, has encouraged his son to pursue an NFL playing career as long as he can. That’s a dream for Robinson, as well, and he thinks he has shown the ability to contribute at that level.

“My dad told me just to try. Just to give it a shot to play,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t matter what happens, that is a dream of mine to play. But just having an opportunity will be good enough.”

But there seems little doubt that Robinson has a brighter future in leading players. It’s not just the coaching pedigree. He has consistently been on the academic honor roll, and he has the media relations down pat already. Last year beat writers voted him the “GATA” award, for “gracious attitude towards answering.” He’s a favorite to win it again this year.

“He’s a mature guy and is articulate,” Olivadotti said. “Those are all things he’s good at, and he’s a good communicator, and those are things that are good in coaching.”

“That’s what I want to do,” Robinson said. “I like the way the game works. I love the competitiveness of it. I love that if you can get your guys to do what you ask them to do at the right time, you can win. I like that.”

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