Robinson Fighting To Overcome Mother's Death

FAYETTEVILLE — Antwain Robinson tried to stay strong as he sat in the driver's seat, started his car and began the 2 1/2-hour drive home to Little Rock last month.

He did his best to remember the good times, when he would laugh with his mother, Bernice. He concentrated on the nights he took her to dinner. Or when they went to the movies. Or when he just drove her around.

But nothing Robinson thought of during the trip could help him avoid an overwhelming sadness.

He had just found out his mother had died.

"I'm a very strong person, but it affected me on the way down," Robinson said during Arkansas' Media Day on Tuesday morning. "I think I just cried the whole time."

Robinson, a senior, doesn't look any different than the rest of his teammates on the practice field this preseason.

The 6-foot-2, 258-pound lineman is fighting for a starting spot at defensive end. He's trying to get used to the demands of a new coaching staff. He's sweating in the heat, fighting back fatigue and working as hard as possible.

But when Robinson steps away from the Broyles Complex and returns to his room, he is trying to cope with something even tougher than the demands of football.

His mother, Bernice Robinson, died at the age of 55 on July 16. It has left the youngest of her four children with a hole in his heart this month as he and the Razorbacks prepare for the 2008 season.

"I really don't show my emotions while I'm (at practice)," Robinson admitted. "But when I'm at home, that's when I break down. I think about her all the time.

"I look back on pictures. I reminisce."

Momma's Boy

The memories have made the preseason difficult for Robinson, who is a self-proclaimed momma's boy.

He spent his entire Arkansas career shuttling back and forth between campus and Little Rock to visit Bernice, who had health problems for years.

But Robinson said he was fond of the trips. He would go home every chance he'd get and spend time with her. In fact, Robinson was the only one of Bernice's children that could convince her to get out of the house.

"Every time he came home, there was a big smile across her face," one of his older sisters, Tiffany, said Wednesday. "It was like sunshine came through the door."

But Robinson's last trip to Little Rock to see his mother was a heartbreaking one. It came after Tiffany called on July 16 to deliver the bad news: His mother had died.

Robinson was excused from team responsibilities and drove home with a heavy heart. The funeral was held a week after her death on June 23. Robinson spent an additional week with his family after the services in Little Rock before returning to campus in time for preseason practice to begin.

Robinson said teammates and coaches have helped him get through the tough times. He even heard from Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, who called to offer his condolences. "It just hurt me so bad," Robinson said. "I just wanted to go with her. But I know God has plans for each and everybody. He's going to bring you home when it's time."

Standing on His Own

Defensive tackles coach Bobby Allen, who lost his mother when he was younger, can relate to what Robinson must be going through. The loss hurts, but Allen believes it will make Robinson a stronger person.

"It makes you feel like you've got to be more accountable for your own actions," Allen said. "You've got to take care of yourself now. You're not always going to be able to call home and have mom or dad be there to tell you that it's going to be all right. So obviously he's probably going through a situation where he knows he needs to stand on his own two feet a little more."

The truth is, the Razorbacks need that this season.

Robinson has shown flashes of brilliance during his career, beginning with the 8 1/2 sacks in 2006. He also has three touchdowns off interceptions and fumble recoveries.

But Robinson's instincts and nose for the football have been matched by inconsistency. Trying to get the talented player to practice hard was a chore for the previous staff.

The new group is making it a priority.

"We've had our discussions. It's been pointed out to him," defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "That's what we're striving out of him. If we can get him to do that, we've got some players that look at him as a bellcow.

"But what we've got to understand is that a bellcow does it every day. Not just one day."

The constant struggle is something Robinson is trying to bury. He was one of the most productive defensive linemen in the spring, credited with four sacks in two scrimmages leading up to the Red-White Game.

And when his up-and-down career was brought up Tuesday, Robinson simply said he has left it in the past.

"It's like on a football snap," Robinson said. "When you mess up in a game, you can't just think about, ‘I messed up.' You've got the next play coming in 35 seconds."

She's Looking Down

Robinson said it's not easy after practice, where he has time to think. But he insisted his mother's death hasn't hindered his play this preseason. Robinson was adamant that he will be strong for his teammates in practice.

Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard, who considers Robinson a "big brother", said he is doing his best.

"You know it's there, but you can't see it," Sheppard said of Robinson's loss. "That's a credit to his character. He's tough. He's going to bring it and work hard for us."

Robinson said that will continue to be his goal this preseason, no matter what might've been said about him in the past. His mother wouldn't want it any other way.

Robinson admits it's going to be hard to run onto the field for the season opener against Western Illinois on Aug. 30 and realize she won't be watching him kick off his senior season. It will feel the same in Little Rock, where the Razorbacks play two more games in his hometown.

"I thought about what it will be like looking up into the stands without her there," he said with a sadness in his voice. "Maybe I just won't look in the stands."

At that point, Robinson paused, looked up and smiled.

"But I already know she's looking down on me," he said. "Each and every play. She'll know my every move."

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