So Here's To You, Mr. Robinson

RUDEL AT THE GAME: It was the off-season after his redshirt freshman year, in the winter of 2003, and Michael Robinson was looking at recruiting brochures in his dorm when in walked roommate Alan Zemaitis. Robinson saw two more years of playing behind Zack Mills and wasn't sure he could stick it out at Penn State.

He was thinking about the “T” word — transfer.

"I was definitely getting ready to make some calls," Robinson said. "A lot of thoughts went through my mind. I didn't know if I wanted to be here anymore."

He remembers Zemaitis offering his support no matter the decision.

"He said I would always be one of his home boys," Robinson said.

That bond is one reason Robinson stayed. In doing so, he proved sometimes the best move is the non-move.

Robinson, as expected, drew the biggest pre-game ovation when the Nittany Lions' 25 seniors were introduced Saturday. Afterward, all he did was rack up another 363 yards of total offense — including 262 in the first half alone — to spark Penn State's 35-14 rout of Wisconsin.

In the process, Robinson boosted his single-season total offense to 2,687 yards, breaking Kerry Collins' record of 2,660 set in 1994.

At 9-1 and within a win at Michigan State for the Big Ten title, Robinson has led Penn State to its best season since Collins' senior year of '94.

True to the steady leadership he has provided this team all year — not unlike the imprints Collins put on his team — Robinson focused only on the remaining tasks. And not himself.

"I didn't even know I was close," he told the pack of reporters that engulfed him in the Beaver Stadium media room. "I try not to think about records. It's an accomplishment to be put up there with guys like Kerry Collins because he accomplished so much when he was here. But all I try to do is be the best quarterback for this team that I can be."

Robinson has been every bit of that. He's excelled throughout the season, especially so when the Lions have needed him the most.

"We're not anywhere near as good as we are without him," Joe Paterno said. "He's a great football player. The thing about it is he's played so well in the clutch."

Paterno attributes much of the Lions' success this year — which even he admitted has exceeded his expectations — to players like Robinson who stayed loyal.

"They weren't a bunch of doubting Thomases," he said. "They stuck together."

Robinson will still miss open receivers, but he more than makes up for it with his fullback mentality, his terrific open-field ability, his poise and his ability to make everybody around him better.

Who knows how much better the Lions may have been had Robinson been ahead of Mills the previous last two years?

We will never know. But he's at least glad he got a chance to put together one great season, thus satisfying his concerns of yesteryear.

"I figured God put me here for a reason," he said. "My mom told me to keep my faith, keep praying, and every time I woke up, the sky was still blue and white so that's why I'm here."

Robinson flashed one of his wall-to-wall grins, the one that lights up a room like he's lit up Happy Valley this year.

He refused an inquiry about a potential NFL career.

"The next level is not really one of my thoughts right now," he said. "I'm thinking about Michigan State and whatever bowl there is after that. The NFL is obviously a goal of mine, but right now a bigger goal is to put this team into national championship contention."

That's why he tempered the euphoria around him Saturday.

"What did we accomplish?" he asked. "We haven't done anything yet. We won a game. Maybe after next week, if things go our way, we can feel some sense of accomplishment."

They should. Robinson and fellow seniors Zemaitis and Tamba Hali, Matt Rice and Scott Paxson, Calvin Lowry and Chris Harrell, Isaac Smolko and E.Z. Smith, and all the others put Penn State back where it believes it should always be.

Most have endured their share of struggles, on the field and off it. At one point in 2004, Robinson was on probation after he was thrown through a trophy case while acting as a peacemaker in a late-night ice rink fight.

"I'm glad I stayed," he said, "and I'm glad all the other guys stayed. I love these guys."

And as he walked off the Beaver Stadium field for the final time early Saturday night, his helmet still on, Robinson had one prevailing sentiment: "Man, I'm going to miss this -- definitely. Beaver Stadium is always going to be home for us. We're never going to forget it."

And it, rest assured, will never forget Michael Robinson and his fellow seniors of 2005.

Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror.


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