MOBILE, Ala. – Growing up in the football hotbed of South Florida not far from where the Miami Dolphins practice and play, Denard Robinson and his older brother, Timothy, dreamed of making it big. They wanted to be able to make life easier for their family, only Timothy tragically died at the age of 11.
Robinson was 10 at the time and one of seven children living inside the small house in Deerfield Beach. He witnessed the courage of his brother as he tried to fight the pain of the mysterious stomach ailment that would claim his life. There was no way Robinson was going to break the promise he and Timothy made, so he harnessed all of his physical skills and his will and conquered every obstacle on the football field.
Now 22 and with a legendary high school career and college career at the University of Michigan behind him, Robinson finds himself at the Senior Bowl trying to convince NFL scouts, general managers and coaches that he deserves a chance at the next level. He wants that chance so he can sign a professional contract and make good on the dream he shared with his late brother.
“My promise was that I would make sure that my family’s okay and they won’t have to worry about a lot of things,” said Robinson, who has been limited in the first two days of practice due to an elbow injury. “I think whatever God wants me to do that’s what He wants me to do, and if it’s to play in the NFL I’ll be more than happy to do that. But if it’s something else I’ll be more than happy to do that, too. I just made that promise to my brother that I was going to make it one day and make it for our family and make sure everybody’s okay in my family.”
Robinson kept that aspect of his life and his story to himself until last July when he was asked to speak at the Big Ten kickoff banquet. It’s a story that resonates today and will resonate during his interviews with NFL teams as strongly as his statistics at Michigan already have.
The speedy and athletic Robinson rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his last three years as quarterback for the Wolverines and passed for 6,250 yards and 49 touchdowns in his career. He finished at Michigan with 10,776 all-purpose yards and his 4,495 career rushing yards broke the NCAA record for quarterbacks set by former Miami Dolphins quarterback Pat White by 15 yards, making him attractive to NFL teams as a diverse threat. He was being slotted as a wide receiver this week in the practices being run by the Oakland Raiders.
“I want to do whatever it takes to be a help to the team and be somebody that you can depend on,” Robinson said. “I think it’s football and you just need to have fun doing it and make the most out of it. Randall Cobb, Antwaan Randle El and other guys (Hines Ward) had success switching positions and hopefully I can do the same thing. Being a quarterback helps at receiver because when you see a certain read or a certain zone you know how to get in and out of breaks.”
There is another player on the North Team that is familiar with Robinson from their younger days and that’s defensive back Jonathan Cyprien out of Florida International University. Cyprien went to North Miami Beach Senior High School and the two gravitated to each other on the practice field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“Denard’s a great guy,” Cyprien said. “I played against him in high school and he’s a great guy with a great personality.”
Robinson had similar words of praise for Cyprien and enjoyed seeing another South Floridian on the roster.
“It’s always good to see another person that’s from the same area or the same place that you’re from,” Robinson said. “It’s good to see them have a lot of success and sometimes you can actually root for them when you’re not playing them. I’d see them playing and say, ‘I played against him in high school. I hope he does well.’ That’s just how it is.”
Based on how Robinson and Cyprien perform the rest of this week and in Saturday’s game, as well as how they do at next month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the two could see each other again on Sundays. If that happens, Robinson will have the comfort of knowing that he kept his promise to Timothy.