COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland senior linebacker Matt Robinson eased into the media interview room at Tyser Tower on Sept. 9. He was relaxed in a stylish gray and neon Under Armour pullover, talking up West Virginia week, the new UA Star Spangled Banner commemorative uniforms, and his summer internship at the Baltimore apparel giant.
He had a glimmer in his eye, good health [finally], and was more at ease as a senior leader of the 2-0 Terrapins.
And Robinson’s counting every day, every game, even every practice knowing this is his final go-round, so he’s appreciating every moment along the way. Like his final game with Maryland's border rival -- and closest thing to a rivalry -- West Virginia Sept. 13 at noon at Byrd in the shiny new uniforms. Who knows, he says, maybe one day he will work for Under Armour if the opportunity presents itself, or go into coaching. He worked this summer in supply chain operations at UA, so saw all the inner-workings of moving product.
The Terps are only two games in, but Robinson, one of the team’s true students of the game, sees the clock ticking. So he's trying to enjoy a healthy season while busy collecting the memories along the way. Like this week's run-up to the showdown with WVU and all its ceremony. After missing three games with injury last season, two his redshirt sophomore year (while a safety) and all but three his true sophomore year, it resonates that much more for the senior from Columbia, Md., who last season received the A.V. Williams Award for Outstanding & Conspicuous Sportsmanship at the team banquet.
"Time's winding down. Real life starts after this. I mean, it's weird, after the JMU game someone said we only have five more games left in Byrd," Robinson said. "So even my attitude in practice because you don't always have the most positive attitude towards practice. But now it's just like I'm just enjoying going out working as hard as I can every day, and really enjoying the experience and this time I have here, because I know it will all come to an end."
He said that attitude has carried over to his health, working in extra treatment and rehab every week to keep his shoulder, which was operated on last year, fit. He has helped guide a more confident and disruptive Terps defense to two wins -- and only one significant scoring drive -- the others short fields after Terps turnovers. The 6-4, 245-pound Robinson has nine tackles through two contests and is tied for the team lead with two PBUs. Meanwhile, he's a quarterback of the defense, making lots of the calls and checks for a unit allowing just 12.0 points per game, which ranks second in the Big Ten and 17th nationally.
Robinson is almost already a "coach" on the field, his teammates say.
"You always hear Coach [Randy Edsall] talk about how he is like a coach on the field for the defense," Terps senior center and fellow Terrapin Council member Sal Conaboy said. "When we are going against the defense he is out there yelling out what we are going to do and you are like, ‘uh-oh, how does he know that?’ He is a good player and a true leader now on defense. He is impressive for sure."
Said Terps defensive coordinator Brian Stewart:
"The linebacker play the last two games has been consistent, has been good," Stewart said. "I am excited about the way they are playing, and they are doing a good job trying to attack the ball in the air, attacking the ball-carriers. And Matt in particular is doing a good job. It's his third year in the defense so he kinda understands the adjustments pretty well."
This week, lots of memories are coming up for Robinson. He remembers WVU from the recruiting process. The Mountaineers invited him to their summer schoolboy camp, but Maryland offered (his first big offer), he committed, and never made the trip.
"It's always chippy when we play them," Robinson said. "Being a border rivalry and what not. And last year was so big and different because we were at M&T. And after we did pretty well it gave us a lot more confidence as that was the first time we had beat them in what, 6-7 years. So it definitely felt good to get that off our back."
Robinson said the stakes are higher now with senior quarterback Clint Trickett on fire and the WVU offense humming. Robinson said it is a fast, explosive group looking for revenge after last year's loss in Baltimore. He said Trickett is reminding him of Geno Smith a few years ago when WVU ran roughshod over Maryland at Morgantown when the New York Jets quarterback was a senior at WVU. He said their speed is comparable to what they saw on film on Clemson last year.
"Their quarterback is playing on a much higher level and they have so many playmakers now. So we're more focused on limiting their explosiveness as much as possible," Robinson said. "We just got to get hits on the quarterback. We are a pressure defense, that's what we try to do, be disruptive and cause him to maybe panic or make decisions quicker than let him sit back there and survey the field. But he's just getting the ball out on the perimeter as fast as he can, not really holding the ball. So we just have to disrupt him."
Robinson said the Terps have to play good assignment football, while in coverage he will be out in space more this week, so he has to be ready for one-on-one situations and win more than he loses.
"We have to be prepared in the open field, and if they catch the ball get them down," Robinson said. "That's the biggest challenge I have to focus on this week, making sure I am preparing myself to have the right angles in the open field and make sure I get them down."
He said last week at USF the Terps struggled at times on third down, getting good pressure but having some lapses in coverage from not seeing plays all the way through.
As far as his own technique, he said using better leverage, taking advantage of his size by getting his hands on people, and disrupting routes more often has improved this year.
"So the quarterback can't take ‘one-two-three’ and fire it in there, so you have to attack the ball a little bit. And give our rush time to get there," Robinson said.
Robinson said the communication on the linebacker unit is at an all-time high since he has been at College Park with the senior laden group, which has allowed them great fit and to play faster. He added easing in the young guys has also been a key.
Robinson, knock on wood, said he's feeling great, getting in extra treatment for his shoulder "and taking it one game at a time, one practice at a time, and just going from there." said Robinson, who missed the spring following shoulder surgery. So this week’s final bout with WVU means that much more.
"Now that we've got the monkey of beating them off of my back since I have been here, definitely now that I am a senior you want to go out the last time playing West Virginia, you want to go out on top,” Robinson said. “You don't want them to have the last laugh. It's just a different attitude playing a team like this. With everything said, you just want to leave your mark."
Robinson appreciates the new UA uniforms and what they represent, not to mention what UA represents to the team and the university. He said uniforms don’t make the player, but he likes what they stand for. He could almost have been auditioning as a UA spokesperson with his perspective this week.
“I think it is great that we are honoring the Star Spangled Banner,” said Robinson, who added he saw the uniforms for the first time early in the week when they wore the new helmets at practice.
“But I have definitely seen, especially just the way… I guess the difference it makes in recruiting and all that. It affects the guys who want to look good, feel good, play good.
"The flashiness definitely catches a lot of kids’ eyes. Coming from high school, you know in high school everyone is trying to look their best, make sure they are doing the coolest things.
"And I know with Under Armour having such a great presence in Maryland, and I know they [Maryland] are trying to get more local guys here and trying to keep everybody home. So I think they definitely are able to do some cool stuff, wear some cool uniforms, and be so close to a great company that represents you.”
Said Conaboy of Robinson, who has blossomed as a senior and is probably the most popular Terp:
"He's a little more, off the field, getting guys going and doing everything now,” Conaboy said of the once reserved senior. “And on the field? He's just playing fast and with a lot of confidence now. And our defense is playing great, both as a whole and specifically Matt. He’s getting downhill and being aggressive. It's been impressive to see."
Robinson Focused On Present, Ready For Future
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