When you mention defense in the Big 12 and, more often than not, West Virginia’s defensive numbers from the last few years, you will likely see more than a few one-liners emerge from the digital ether. While the Mountaineers’ identity is based less on their ability to stop the run than it is to launch a formidable passing attack week-in and week-out, coordinator Tony Gibson has managed to produce more than a handful of defensive stars who have gone on to successful professional careers.
Bruce Irvin, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley, Rasul Douglas, K.J. Dillon, Kyzir White: All former Mountaineers now playing on Sundays in the NFL. The newest name that appears destined to be exalted in similar fashion is defensive back Kenny Robinson.
Robinson, a native of Wilkinsburg, PA, was a do-it-all standout at Imani Christian Academy where he featured at wide receiver, quarterback and defensive back. Robinson was a truly under-the-radar prospect that West Virginia was able to build a relationship with early on. They saw something special in the 6’2″ athlete who, very likely, could have played on either side of the ball in college.
Last year as a freshman, however, Robinson was thrust into early action at both the safety and cornerback positions to help the Mountaineers combat a relative lack of experience in the secondary. Based on what Robinson was able to do as a true freshman, one wonders why he didn’t receive more four star consideration coming out of high school.
In his debut season, Robinson compiled 46 total tackles in addition to tallying three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Several of those plays, including a pick six to keep West Virginia in the thick of things against a sloppy outing against Oklahoma State, were legitimate momentum changers. If his body of work is evidence of anything up to this point, it’s that Robinson possesses big-play ability and enviable natural instincts as a disruptor.
While the Mountaineers lose star SPUR Kyzir White and player/coach Al-Rasheed Benton, they return a wealth of experience in the secondary in 2018 including Dravon Askew-Henry, Toyous Avery and corner Hakeem Bailey. Up front, coach Bruce Tall benefits from adding graduate transfers Jabril Robinson and former five star recruit Kenny Bigelow in addition to veterans Reese Donahue and Ezekiel Rose. Lastly, in the middle of the defense, all-world linebacker David Long returns alongside Dylan Tonkery. So, how does all this impact Robinson going into his sophomore campaign?
Simply put, it frees him up to stay in perpetual attack mode.
Robinson is a long, gifted athlete who routinely found himself in position last season to make his presence felt. Any freshman, regardless of how naturally gifted they are, always has a learning curve to navigate. The safety spot in West Virginia’s defense demands far more than a player acting on a “see ball/get ball” philosophy but for Matt Caponi’s position group, sometimes that’s exactly what is needed. With a full season now under his belt, consider Kenny Robinson mastered in comparison to where he was at this point last year.
Those microseconds of hesitation that existed a season ago have been replaced by a confidence found only through learned experience. When pure instinct is refined alongside a greater understanding of defensive concepts, promising novices transform into unstoppable weapons. White, Joseph, Dillon, et al, each hit a critical juncture that helped them elevate their game to a different level. This is where we find Kenny Robinson, in the midst of a considerable transformation.
In Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5, playmakers routinely emerge in the secondary because the dirty work, usually done closer to the line of scrimmage, allows the players roaming the deep third of the field to run free and unrestricted. With an impressive freshman year serving as a blueprint, Kenny Robinson is positioned to have an absolutely monster sophomore outing. With early road tests against non-conference opponents Tennessee and NC State, there exist two quality opportunities for Robinson to prove that 2017 was not just a flash in the pan, but a prelude to another storied career for a West Virginia defender. Are expectations lofty for #2 going into 2018? Of course they are and that’s the only way it should be.
Get ready to hear Kenny Robinson’s name broadcasted early and often starting September 1st.