Adam Robinson first caught my eye last year at Kids Day, one of two annual practices Iowa opens to the public and media. The true freshman was buried down the depth chart but ran with heart and a pretty nice burst.
The running back position was clouded at the time. Shonn Greene returned after a year away from the field, former walk-on Paki O'Meara came out of spring No. 1, and Jeff Brinson earned most of the buzz surrounding the first-year players after choosing Iowa ahead of Florida State and others.
Word trickled out of camp that two lesser known names were turning heads. Jewel Hampton rushed for a bunch of yards as an Indiana prep, and Adam Robinson from Des Moines was pushing him for playing time with Brinson suffering from asthma.
Hampton emerged from the competition of lightly recruited backs. The true freshman spelled Doak Walker winner Greene to the tune of 463 yards (5.1 per) rushing on 91 carries. His seven touchdowns on the ground were thought to be an Iowa record.
Robinson's name became an afterthought. Even though Greene departed for the NFL, Hampton was returning this fall as were O'Meara and Brinson. Iowa also hit pay dirt with highly-recruited Sioux City product, Brandon Wegher.
Those plans began to unravel a bit this summer when Hampton injured his right knee. Reports surfaced that it might be a season-ending setback, but the leading returning rusher hit the practice field for August camp. Then, he "tweaked" it in workouts, according to coach Kirk Ferentz.
On Kids Day a few weeks ago, Wegher (hamstring) joined Hampton on the sideline. Brinson's performance was a bit underwhelming, and although O'Meara looked better that that, Robinson clearly showed the best burst and vision through the line that afternoon. He also grabbed a screen pass and raced about 25 yards, not a common sight among many Iowa backs of recent vintage.
I also felt that Robinson ran really well in the spring. Hampton was held out with a minor injury, and Brinson and O'Meara didn't outshine the kid from Des Moines.
With Hampton still sidelined, Jon Miller reported this week that Robinson and O'Meara were the top two backs on the depth chart. This news worried some fans, who felt like Brinson should be running away with the job due to pedigree.
One might need to dig a little deeper to make sense of this competition.
First off, remember, Robinson ran neck and neck with Hampton last summer. And look what Hampton accomplished.
Second, Brinson struggled until November getting his asthma under control, meaning Robinson got some meaningful practice reps during last season.
Thirdly, maybe Robinson is getting better. Maybe he's one of those diamonds in the roughs, mutts if you will, that seem to come through this place on at least a semi-regular basis.
I'm like a lot of folks. I enjoy getting looks at the highly-rated kids when they're in practice. It's natural to want to see what all the fuss is about.
But I also feel like I've done a good job being objective. And Robinson has impressed me every time I've watched him.
Robinson also played point guard on his prep team at Lincoln. He set a state record with a 99-yard scoring run against powerful West Des Moines Valley during the 2006 playoffs. He rushed for more than a 1,000 yards in each of his last two high school seasons and as a senior ran for 13 scores and caught four touchdown passes.
I asked Robinson at media day if he felt like an underdog in the running back competition. His name was brought up late or completely forgotten by the media and fans.
Robinson smiled as I asked the question as to acknowledge his relative anonymity.
"You can't really dwell on that," he said. "You just have to work on what you can do and do what you can do and not worry about what other people are doing. You just need to do what you're capable of doing and don't leave it up to the coaches. You have to prove yourself every day. So, I'm not too worried about that."
One thing that gets lost in Greene success story is how much the guys that played behind him felt like they learned from the all-American. Greene could definitely impact this team even though he's gone.
"There are so many things I learned from Shonn, off the field and on the field," Robinson said. "He showed us how to run hard and read our blocks. He taught me a lot in the film room. I also learned how to handle myself when you reach a little bit of success; not to get full of yourself, stay humble. Shonn is one of the most humble people I've ever met."
Robinson showed off some of what he learned in that regard when asked if he felt it would be a running back by committee situation to replace Greene.
"You never know about injuries and fatigue and stuff like that," Robinson said. "We're going to have to have a couple of people step up this year and be able to hit the field whenever they're needed.
"Everybody is just working on getting better right now. We're not worried about the depth chart. We're just improving as a team and getting ready for out first game."
Robinson also appears to understand his role as a student-athlete. When asked what he learned from his redshirt season, he said:
"Time management was a really big one. I learned to write stuff down so I remember it. Being on time is another good one. You've got some unique things to do if you don't make it on time for football. I had a good experience my first year. I grew up a lot and I'm excited for this next school year and football season."
Robinson worked hard during the spring and summer on the things that kept him from beating out Hampton last season.
"My biggest thing last year was my transition from high school to college," he said. "I didn't catch onto the plays as quickly as the other backs, all the protections and everything. I ran a totally different offense in high school. I need to prove that I know the plays and I'm capable of playing at this level."
The Iowa coaches seem to feel that way. Maybe everyone else will come around soon.