Keenan Robinson displaying his versatility

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Most Important Longhorn

Photo Credit: Derek Stout | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: The Daily Texan’s series of the 10 most important Longhorn football players continues with No. 7 Keenan Robinson.

Keenan Robinson sure knows how to make a good first impression.

In last year’s season opener against Rice, the linebacker picked off Owls quarterback Taylor McHargue on Rice’s second drive of the game. Two possessions later, Robinson scooped up an Owls fumble and turned it into a Texas touchdown.

Robinson’s showing against Rice, which also included six tackles, was indicative of how he would perform for the rest of the season, but not of how his team would play. The Plano product went on to register a team-high 113 tackles and earn second-team All-Big 12 honors. Meanwhile, the Longhorns dropped seven of their last nine games on their way to their first losing season since 1997.

Now, Robinson, the hero of Texas’ season opener a year ago, is a senior as the Longhorns try to bounce back from a 5-7 campaign in 2010. Robinson finds himself in a position to provide some senior leadership to the team’s underclassmen, many of which will see playing time, even amongst the linebackers. Jordan Hicks, the No. 1 outside linebacker coming out of the high school class of 2010, has snagged the third starting linebacker spot while Demarco Cobbs is firmly entrenched in the linebacker rotation as well. Both Hicks and Cobbs are sophomores but have a remarkable role model in Robinson to look up to.

“Keenan Robinson has done a great job,” said Jeff Madden, the assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning. “All those seniors have really stepped up. We’ve got some great kids, and everybody’s embarrassed over what we did last year, so we’re looking forward to winning some football games again.”

The team’s underclassmen would do well to take after Robinson, who refused to rest on the laurels produced from his spectacular junior season. At the end of that junior year, Robinson benched 405 pounds. Now, with the help Madden and newcomer head strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, he maxes out at 450 pounds, which begs the question: Could Robinson actually improve on the 113 stops he made last season?

“He’s a stud,” Wylie said. “It was amazing to watch the transformation for him because he was always a stud, of course, but just to watch how much work he put in and to watch [him bench] 450 [pounds] ... That’s why I do the job.”

Robinson’s work ethic, however, may be matched by his versatility. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has said that he can play both middle and outside linebacker, along with fellow senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho, Hicks and Cobbs. In fact, Diaz’ maneuvering of his linebackers, especially Robinson, has left the Longhorns offense confused at times.

“The defense is all over the place,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Manny [Diaz] brought them all the other day and dropped Keenan Robinson in center field. It is stuff I have never seen before. It is very difficult for our quarterbacks and the evaluation of our quarterbacks because of all the disguise and movement on defense.”

Despite Robinson’s tremendous efforts, Texas had a disappointing season in 2010. Like last year, the Longhorns begin their season with a contest against Rice. Once again, Robinson figures to be one of the defense’s primary playmakers. But if he and the rest of his teammates have their way, the similarities between last year and this one will stop there.

“This is a chance for me and my teammates to work toward improvement,” Robinson said. “Not [only] improvement on last season, but improvement as a team, improving on the Texas tradition. We are going to be ready to get out and play Rice and ready to win our first game.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Robinson looks to build on great junior season.