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first_img Comments Published on August 30, 2018 at 11:47 pm Contact Matt: mdliberm@syr.edu,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. When Alton Robinson left for school the morning of Feb. 16, 2016, he anticipated a normal day. He had committed to Texas A&M nearly two weeks prior. He just had to stay out of trouble.But instead of finishing school that day, he was escorted from Judson (Texas) High School at about 10:20 a.m. and charged with second-degree robbery. One of Texas’ brightest young stars was facing 20 years in prison after police said he stole his girlfriend’s cellphone.“It’s just a tragedy because he was everyone’s darling in San Antonio,” Judson head football coach Sean McAuliffe said. “Everyone was making him out to be a monster.”Robinson’s college football career nearly ended before it began. Had there been no charges, Robinson would likely be finishing up his third training camp at Texas A&M this fall. Instead, he was uprooted and forced across the country to a school he never thought about, to escape his past.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWhen he arrived on the Syracuse University campus during August 2017, there was no guarantee that he would ever step foot in the Carrier Dome to play football. He’d bet on an open promise, something that had failed him many times before.“Adversity is going to come. You’ve got to play through it,” Robinson said. “Can’t nobody stop you but yourself.”•••In high school, daily jogs along the perimeter of Judson field were necessary to limit Robinson from pounding his teammates.“Don’t hit the quarterback today. We’re down to one,’” McAuliffe recalled saying one practice.“But coach, that’s how we play football,” Robinson replied.“Yeah, Friday night you get to hit everybody. But don’t hit that guy.”“Coach, let me just hit him once.”“No, you’re coming and standing over here with me.”,During high school, Robinson developed from a lanky outside linebacker into one of the top defensive ends in San Antonio. By fall 2014, Robinson had evolved into a chiseled, grown man. McAuliffe, who coached Johnny Manziel in high school, called Robinson likely the best practice player he had ever seen.Robinson’s drive and build attracted college attention by the end of his sophomore year. Within a year offers flooded in, especially after his performance in the San Antonio regional final.Judson was set to face Ronald Reagan (Texas) High School, a state powerhouse and heavy favorite. Reagan was led by then-sophomore Kellen Mond, a current Texas A&M quarterback and the No. 3 ranked dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2017.After one half, Robinson had four sacks, four knockdowns and Mond had to change jerseys because Robinson had torn the first to shreds.“It was definitely a trophy game of mine,” Robinson said, “walking around with my letterman on, getting a pat on the back and congratulations. It was an awesome experience. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”Robinson’s performance put him on the map, McAuliffe said, leading to inquiries from programs such as Texas A&M. He had the physical tools, the mentality, and now, the popularity. Wherever Robinson wound up, McAuliffe said, everyone expected he would have a good chance at getting drafted into the NFL.But no one anticipated Robinson’s future, which would force him to rebuild.•••Ahead of the 2015 regional final against Smithson Valley (Texas) High School, Robinson waited across the field for his opponents. Robinson stood by McAuliffe’s side donning a pair of slides, his game socks, his game pants, no shirt, and a pink bathroom robe — his lucky robe.“Here’s this legendary coach, and his kids are walking in like Stormtroopers from Star Wars,” McAuliffe said. “And here I am standing next to this freak in a pink friggin’ bathrobe, and all these dudes are looking at him like, ‘That can’t be him.’”Three hours and three sacks later, Robinson greeted Smithson Valley at the exit as the team boarded the bus in defeat, a pink bathrobe draped around his body, looking at a standing ovation from the crowd.That game was on Dec. 5, 2015. Within two months Robinson committed to Texas A&M.“I felt like I was on top of the world,” Robinson said. “Just like right now, sitting here with you, I had about 20 other guys around me. I felt like a superstar.”Then came Feb. 16. Robinson was escorted out of Judson High School and charged with second-degree robbery and later arraigned on a $20,000 bond.On Feb. 9, police said Robinson, 17 at the time, stole his ex-girlfriend’s purse and her cellphone, according to a Bexar County (Texas) arrest report. A struggle over the purse injured Robinson’s ex-girlfriend’s knee, the report stated. After police said Robinson pushed the woman down, she ran after Robinson, who dropped the purse but kept the cellphone, according to the report. Robinson allegedly committed a similar crime in May 2015, stealing his same ex-girlfriend’s purse and pushing her into a bush after she chased him, per multiple media outlets’ reports, at the time. The woman was not identified by name in Robinson’s arrest report.If found guilty of second-degree robbery, Robinson could have faced up to 20 years in prison.When asked what happened on Feb. 9, Robinson said: “All I got to say is I can only control what I can control. I can’t control what somebody else says.”Despite the possible 20-year sentence, those around Robinson weren’t too worried. He had returned his ex-girlfriend’s phone the night after the incident, McAuliffe said. Robinson also showed up to school the next day, he added.,In coming months, Robinson spoke often on the phone with then-Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin about the upcoming fall season. The two had a great relationship, Robinson said, cracking jokes with each other whenever they talked. Each time Robinson hung up the phone, he felt confident that he would suit up for the Aggies.That’s why Robinson thought he was being punked when Sumlin called a week before fall camp. Robinson had just finished up his housing assignment for the fall. The university’s housing site was still open on Robinson’s computer when Sumlin called. This time, when Robinson hung up the phone, rather than feeling confident, Robinson was left blindsided. His scholarship had been rescinded.“It went from, ‘He’s our guy, he’s our guy,’” McAuliffe said, “to all of a sudden, ‘He was dropped.’”According to The Houston Chronicle, Robinson’s offer was rescinded due to legal issues related to his arrest.Sumlin did not respond to multiple requests for comment.McAuliffe and his staff called every coach they could. Several small Division I schools reached out with interest, but ultimately the consensus on all sides was that junior college was the better route for Robinson.“We said, ‘You know what, you need a fresh start. Get out of the state,’” McAuliffe said. “Go play your butt off, keep a low profile, and good things are going to happen for you. It’s a little off the time table, but at the end of the day, you’re going to end up getting what you want.”In July 2017, all charges against Robinson were dismissed due to an uncooperative witness, according to The Dallas Morning News. Robinson’s reputation in San Antonio was tarnished, but his record remained clean, said his lawyer, Philip Perez.•••The football mantra at Judson is: “Put the ball down and let’s play.” For Robinson, it’s his lifestyle. Football was his escape from the rest of the world, and he just needed a chance to play.“I just wanted someone to give me a helmet and pads,” Robinson said. “I can get cleats.”Within weeks of losing his scholarship, Robinson recorded two-and-a-half sacks in his first game for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) and finally felt comfortable again. NEO was the perfect fit for Robinson. Moving out of Texas gave him a fresh start. No one in Oklahoma knew who he was.Robinson’s situation was unlike anything members of that coaching staff had experienced, NEO head coach Zach Allen said. In the past, one or two players had similar incidents, but not nearly as high-profile as Robinson’s. The players recognized that.“What we told Alton was, ‘Look, you would rather the people that are going to be important to your life and your decision (hear) the story from you,’” said Allen who was the defensive coordinator while Robinson attended NEO, “rather than sitting on their phone or computer and Googling it.”Robinson explained his situation. His teammates listened.Robinson enrolled at NEO and began practicing just a week before the season opener on Sept. 3, 2016. That season, without a training camp, Robinson finished third in the NJCAA with 14 sacks while exceeding his academic requirements and maintaining a clean record of no off-the-field incidents. He led a defensive line unit that sent five players to Division I.As Robinson’s year progressed, several teams reached out with interest. Oklahoma State was one of the premier programs that seriously considered adding Robinson. He was approved to play at OSU by the Big 12 Conference, McAuliffe said, but the OSU Board of Directors didn’t approve him.Several other schools followed OSU’s pattern, leaving Robinson wondering when he would get a chance. But Syracuse and new head coach Dino Babers were different.Syracuse was the “ugly duckling,” Robinson said. The program wasn’t as prestigious as OSU or Texas A&M, but it was the best fit. Still, Robinson needed approval by the SU administration.“You’ve got to have a coach willing to go stick his neck out to the administration and say, ‘Hey this kid made a mistake, but he can learn from it. He can not only help our football program but he can help our school.’ Not everyone was willing to do that,” Allen said.Babers was.Robinson packed his things and moved east ahead of the 2017 season, unsure if he would ever be allowed to play. As Syracuse ran through its training camp, Robinson sat cooped up in a room in Aspen Heights — where many Syracuse football players live — waiting for a call. Unable to practice with the team, Robinson reviewed 2016 game film and took notes, sometimes for 20 hours a day.“It just kind of felt like everyone was turning their backs on me,” Robinson said. “But one of (Babers’) key things is faith, belief without evidence, so I just kept believing.”On Aug. 20, 2017 — 11 days before SU kicked off its season against Central Connecticut State — Robinson was added to the Syracuse roster. Last year, Robinson led the Orange with five sacks and led all defensive linemen with 30 tackles, solidifying his place in Division I.“We felt like he was one of those guys that deserved a second chance based off of what he was doing (on the field) and how he was doing academically,” Babers said.•••On Aug. 23, 45 minutes after the final practice of training camp ended, only Robinson remained on the field. He attacked a dummy in full pads. Blood trickled down his leg from a cut opened during practice. Over and over, from the left and right sides, he practiced different moves, working on his hand positioning, footwork, explosiveness and finishing.It was to make up for lost training camps, he said.Robinson stays long after practice every day, no matter what.“I don’t come out here to get watched,” Robinson said. “This is going to get me to where I want to go, and it’s going to get the team to where we want to go.That night in February forever changed his life. He knows some people will never look at him the same. He doesn’t know exactly what people think about him now. But he doesn’t care. He said he can only control himself.“When life knocks you down, you just got to get back up, no matter how tough it gets,” Robinson said. “Put the ball down and let’s play.”Cover photo by Paul Schlesinger | Staff Photographer last_img