Nate the Great

Rarely do incoming freshmen come to college with the confidence and borderline-cockiness that Nate Robinson has brought with him from Rainier Beach High School to the University of Washington. Not bad for a baby-faced two-sport star who stands only five-feet, nine-inches tall and weighs a mere 170 pounds.

He says he takes the Allen Iverson approach - "fear no man."

"I fear nobody," he said after his first day of workouts last Wednesday. "I play as hard as I can against the best. If you are Michael Jordan I'm going to play you as hard as I possibly can."

Nate-Rob doesn't just speak a good game, he plays one too. His fearless approach has been evident since the day he first stepped foot on the Husky Stadium Fieldturf. While other freshmen spoke timidly of "feeling happy to be with the team" or "looking forward to playing at the next level," Robinson boasted freely of doing whatever he could to contribute immediately wherever need be.

Nate, the son of former Husky Rose Bowl MVP Jacque Robinson, said that the coaches have talked to him seriously about playing on special teams as a true freshman. Already, he's been working with Charles Frederick, Shelton Sampson, and Chris Singleton as a kick returner, and lined up to return punts as well.

He'd been working as a receiver for the first four days of camp, showing a knack for holding on to the toughest of passes and the rare ability to contort to the ball whenever and wherever necessary, but moved to cornerback yesterday when a minor injury to Roc Alexander made for a glaring lack of depth at the position. With today being only his second day as a corner, he again appeared more than comfortable in his new role.

Wherever the coaches have put him, he's - in Head Coach Rick Neuheisel's words - "looked like a natural."

In fact, when Neuheisel talked about him as a cornerback following Sunday's practice, he mentioned that he still needed to learn a lot as far as schemes go, bypassing the fact that he may have needed to soak up a lot of information on becoming a cornerback. The reason? He already looked fine back there doing all the things that cornerbacks learn to do - back-pedal, pursue the ball, and stay stride-for-stride with the receivers. The only thing holding him back is his lack of height, but if there's anyone that wouldn't bother it'd be Nate.

"I just think that we're going to need some guys that like one-on-one (coverage), guys that like that mentality, Neuheisel said yesterday. "I don't know of anybody that has more desire or moxie in that regard than Nate Robinson. He's a natural, and he'll be fine."

Nate's attitude as a team player comes out when you ask him where he'd ideally like to play. His response, "Wherever they put me." After probing further, the 18-year-old admits he likes wide receiver, but understands that there is already an abundance of talent at that position.

Redshirting is something he'd like to avoid if possible. The chance to play every game, even if only on special teams, is too appealing to turn down. "I'd just be happy putting on a uniform and coming out of the tunnel," he said.

If that were the case, and Nate were to bypass a redshirt season, it wouldn't mark the first time that he'd played at Husky Stadium. He played a pee-wee football game in the friendly confines as a 12-year-old, going up against an Enumclaw, Wash. team that had no chance of stopping him.

"I had like four touchdowns," he said, still smiling when recalling the day. "It was a great feeling scoring and hearing everyone cheer. Now it's the real thing."

As talented as Robinson is though, he maintains that his true love is still playing with the roundball on the hardwood. He says he loves both football and basketball, but has a bit more of a love for hoops. Come basketball season, he's fully intent on making the transition to the other sport. He isn't concerned about getting worn out over the course of two seasons, citing his ability to avoid getting tired.

"I've got to do a lot to get tired," he said. "Just to have that endurance to play both (sports) is something I've got to go all the way with."

Robinson has talked to Washington Head Basketball Coach Lorenzo Romar about playing both sports, and he says that Romar has been very supportive. "He said to follow my heart and that if I want to play football just to let him know," said Robinson.

It isn't surprising that both Neuheisel and Romar covet his services. Nate's awards speak for themselves; he was named the Seattle Times Class 3A State Player of the Year in both football and basketball. As a football senior at Rainier Beach, he accumulated over 1,200 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving while also scoring 21 touchdowns en route to a 9-2 season. On the hardwood, he led his team to a 28-1 record and a No. 7 national ranking. Let's not forget his performance in the state track meet, where he set a state-record in the 110-meter hurdles with a mark of 13.85 seconds.

"Certainly there is a lot of basketball in his blood," said Coach Neuheisel at the freshman luncheon last Wednesday, "and we don't want to dissuade him from that." "Lorenzo Romar and I have talked about him a number of times, and we both agree that he can help both of our programs and so we're going to do that. It's going to be fun for me, as a basketball fan, to watch him play, and hopefully Lorenzo feels the same way about watching him play football."

All this talk of Nate-Rob and it's easy to forget he nearly elected to attend the University of Southern California instead of becoming a Husky like his father. But in the end, he, like many others in the incoming class of freshmen, saw that the family environment at the UW blew away anything he saw at other schools he visited.

"The people here made me feel like family," he said. "All the coaches made me feel like I was supposed to be here. For all the people to accept me into their home, I was real comfortable with it and that's why I chose UW."

Now, as football season rapidly approaches and basketball season is only two months away, it's time for Nate to put the money where his mouth is. He talks a good game, and for some reason, unlike most freshman who do the same, it's hard to doubt this kid.

He's too confident, too cocky, and too fearless to believe otherwise.

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