Jan. 3, 2014
Left tackle Greg Robinson has a big decision to make, but his focus is on winning a national championship (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – As Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, all 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds of him, sits in the lobby of Auburn’s team hotel munching on a sandwich, it’s difficult to visualize him as a “real fast little dude.” A rare combination of strength, power and athleticism, has shot up NFL draft boards during Auburn’s run to the BCS Championship Game.
But a decade ago, in Thibodeaux, La., there was nothing to indicate what Robinson’s future held.
“I wasn’t always big,” Robinson says. “Growing up, I was a real fast little dude. I was more like into track and basketball. I used to run with my brother and sister a lot. I didn’t play football at all.”
When Robinson was in the sixth grade, his family was uprooted by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and moved to Houston when he was in the sixth grade. That’s when he began to change.
“When we moved to Texas, I really started to eat a lot,” Robinson says. “I grew up.”
As a child, Robinson didn’t see himself as a future football player. His cousin had suffered a broken neck playing high school football, and Robinson’s mother was fearful of letting him play. As a high school freshman, his only athletic endeavor was as a shot putter on the track team.
But some football players, including quarterback Trovon Reed, talked him into giving football a try. He agreed, though even his mother didn’t know.
“Really, I snuck it on her,” Robinson says. “One day I didn’t come home from school, and I was at football practice. A lot of guys on the football team talked me into it. Trovon was one of them, and a few others.”
Robinson’s life changed forever that day. He became one of the top offensive line prospects in the South, getting dozens of scholarship offers. When it was time to make a decision, he kept a promise he’d made to Reed, who had signed with Auburn as a wide receiver in 2010.
In February of 2011, Robinson signed with Auburn.
“I got noticed because of him,” Robinson says. “He was real highly recruited, and all the schools came. They came to see him, but they saw me, too. I made him a promise that I was going to go to school wherever he went. He thought I was just blowing smoke. He thought I was going to LSU.”
Robinson sat out a redshirt season in 2011 and became a starter in 2012. Now he is three days from playing for against Florida State for the national championship. When that’s over, he’ll have only a matter of days to decide whether he wants to play another season at Auburn or declare for the NFL draft.
“I talked to my family over the Christmas break,” Robinson says. “They know I have a big decision coming up. They told me whatever decision I make they are behind me. I appreciate my family for everything they do. I will take care of them when that chance comes.”
But first there is the matter of a national championship. Robinson and his teammates, who suffered through a 3-9 season in 2012, can complete the greatest turnaround in college football history and win Auburn’s second national championship in four seasons.
Just getting to Auburn was a challenge for Robinson. Neighbors, friends, his high school coach, even family members wanted him to go to LSU. And they let him know it. The pressure was intense. As he waits for the biggest game of his life, Robinson knows he made the right decision.
“As a recruit, the coaches really stressed to us that Auburn was all about hard work,” Robinson says. “That hard work is really starting to pay off. I don’t really like to talk about last year, but that was real tough on us. It really motivated us. I’m really happy I made the decision I made, because I have teammates that are working hard with me.
“Getting away from LSU was real hard. I was even battling with my family, because they wanted me to go to LSU also. They’ve come around now. They are my happy with my decision.”
Even though he was a starter as a redshirt freshman, Robinson wasn’t getting a lot of attention as this season began. But as Auburn started to win and to run the ball better than any team in college football, the attention came.
For Robinson, it started after Gus Malzahn was named head coach last December and hired J.B. Grimes to coach the offensive line.
“Coach Grimes has been a great addition to my life,” Robinson says. “He’s taught me a lot of things as far as on the field and off the field. He’s a great man to be around, and I really appreciate everything he does.”
But when Robinson met Grimes for the first time, he wasn’t so sure.
“He has a little fire under him,” Robinson says. “He’s a really good coach. At first, I didn’t think he knew much about o-line. He showed us different. He told me on the phone ‘I’m not your average offensive line coach. I’m real short.’ He said he was going to coach us and we were going to learn. He showed us he was right.”
Grimes, a veteran of more than three decades in the coaching business, says Robinson could be the most gifted offensive lineman he’s coached. He doesn’t know if he’ll have the opportunity to coach him again after Monday.
"I think a year from now he could be the first player picked overall,” Grimes says. “I really do. He is that kind of player. I don’t think that will happen this year, but he’s obviously a great talent with a bright future.”
Robinson says he is a far better player today than he was when Auburn beat Washington State in its season-opener.
“I just run my feet on contact, really, and just let the weight room and all that go into effect,” Robinson says. “Really, I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do and see how far I can go with that.”
Opponents can tell even before they line up against Robinson that he’s no ordinary offensive tackle. He might be the strongest and most athletic offensive lineman in the SEC. That’s why NFL draft prognosticators say he could be a top 10 pick should he decide to move on.
“When he comes down and washes down on the 3-technique, he almost wipes out the whole side of the defensive line with him,” Florida State nose guard Timmy Jernigan said Thursday morning. “There's a reason why he's rated so high.”
Auburn center Reese Dismukes says Robinson has been a key to Auburn’s overpowering running game.
“He's a great player, and I think the sky's the limit for him,” Dismukes says. “His future is pretty bright. I think he'll have a great career in the NFL when he decides to make that decision.”
Says tight end C.J. Uzomah: “I think he might be the most athletic kid on our team, being his size and doing the things he can do.”
Among the things Robinson can do is a standing backflip.
“That’s not something you normally see from an offensive lineman,” Grimes says.
Robinson makes it clear he really doesn’t want to talk about the NFL. Not yet. He wants to beat Florida State and win the national championship.
“I never won a state championship in high school,” Robinson says. “This is an opportunity I’ll probably never get again. We’ve been working really hard. I think we have a good plan. It will mean a lot if we can win it.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: