Aldrick Robinson is fast. Like, real fast.
As the 2007 Waxahachie High School graduate prepares to take the field for Super Bowl LI, the eyes of his hometown will be glued to the television. Each pair waiting for a glimpse of what they already know — Robinson’s speed can kill a secondary.
Before entering the NFL, Robinson clocked a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine. Not only is the time just a few ticks off the top-20 all-time list, as seven are tied with a time of 4.31 seconds, but, according to a study conducted by Statistic Brain on March 1, 2016, his time is quite a bit faster than the NFL average for the wide receiver position. The study found that, as a group, NFL wideouts run the infamous 40-yard race against the clock in about 4.55 seconds.
Of course, Waxahachie was already aware of just how fast Robinson can scoot. As a senior in high school, “Lil A” finished second in the 200-meter dash (21.48s) at the 4A State Championships, which came just a few months after he won the 100-meter dash at the 80th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in 10.49 seconds.
And, if there was ever a high school game that showcased his elite speed, it was against the Red Oak Hawks at Billy Goodloe Stadium on Oct. 6, 2006.
Robinson scored three touchdowns that night and all three in a different fashion. The first came on a seven-yard hitch from senior quarterback Jamar Johnson that Robinson turned into a 69-yard score. The second on a fly route up the Red Oak sideline for an 86-yard touchdown from junior quarterback Boomer Collins.
Then, there was the third and the one that teammates, fans, and even former coaches like Joe Volentine, who served as the receivers coach at the time for Waxahachie, are quick to recall.
Although in the stat book the score went for 88 yards, Robinson ran much farther than that.
He collected the third-quarter kickoff near the left hash, ran up the Indian sideline where he broke two tackles before reversing field at the 35-yard line back toward his own end zone. The shifty ball carrier then broke another arm tackle at the 20-yard line as he raced back up the Indian sideline. With bodies flying in seven different directions, Robinson ran through a fifth would-be tackler as he crossed midfield and then outran four Hawks, who all had the angle, to the end zone on the Red Oak side of the field.
It was a Reggie Bush-esque run from USC before there was ever such a reference.
“That was the play,” Volentine agreed. “That was the play, where you sat there and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this kid really is something special.’ Or even just watching him run in track meets that was something special, too. People always talked about Aldrick on the football field and especially at track meets. They talked about him and that says something about how special he was.
“[…] Watching him run track was special. Those guys with that type of speed, they are going to be cocky because they can go catch somebody pretty quick. If you gave him the stick in third place, he could catch up real quick and win the dang relay for you. But when you get to the next level, and those guys start to have the same speed and the same ability, you have got to start using your brain and you start out thinking them and start learning how to play the game at a different level and a different speed. And that's what's truly special about Aldrick.”
During that senior season as an Indian, a year in which Rivals.com shows he accounted for over 1,500 all-purpose yards with 29 catches for 647 yards and eight touchdowns, Volentine said he noticed a change in Robinson’s approach to the game.
“I felt like he started to take football serious and knew that he could do something with football when he was a senior. His senior year was a great year for him and you could tell that his attitude and everything just shifted and it became a lot more apparent that he knew the direction that he could go,” said Volentine, who has spent 24 years as a football coach. “You knew Al had all of the tools when he was a sophomore and that he could go play major college ball and that he could possibly go to the NFL.”
With several offers to choose from, Robinson decided on Southern Methodist University, where he would play alongside fellow NFL wideouts, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders. It was also there that Volentine noticed the young man begin to hone in on his route running.
“Running clean routes is the important part once you get to college because other guys can run a 4.3 [40-yard dash]. You have to make a move to make sure that, ‘OK I'm going to run a curl route here but make it look like a post, so I can get the guy's hips turned and then I can bring it back for the curl.’ That was an important part because in high school he didn't have to do that he could just run by them, but, in college, there are those other 4.3 guys who can run with him, so we had to learn to run routes properly. And he did, and it paid off for him. And we are just all lucky enough to get to be a part of it. That is the neat part. We are just lucky to be part of it.”
The route running was the tip of the iceberg for Robinson while attending the university that checks at No. 56 in the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of the top academic colleges in the country. His ability to learn both in the classroom and on the field not only left an impression on his former coach but also continued a legacy of successful Indian alumni.
“I feel like we are lucky here in Waxahachie because you get good athletes here. You get the kids that can play. You are talking about Ladarius Brown. You are talking Don King. You're talking Boomer Collins. You are talking about guys who can play and guys that have played. We take for granted, sometimes, that we are in Waxahachie. This is a great place to be. This is a great place to grow up. This is a great place to coach because you get special kids and, sometimes, I think we all take that for granted because it's an everyday thing here,” Volentine explained. “But you leave for a year or two years, and you come back and start thinking, ‘man this is a pretty special place’ and not for only athletes but also student-athletes, first and foremost. I mean crap you got Patrick Lawrence at Baylor right now who is a really smart kid and then Aldrick going to SMU — we are getting to coach students first and then the athlete. That's the important part that we all seem to forget.”
NOW HERE WE ARE
After the Redskins had drafted Robinson in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, it was not until 2012 that he saw game action. Then, rather abruptly and following two relatively successful seasons, he recorded just one catch in 2014 before being waived. The Ravens then picked him up, only to again receive his release papers in 2015.
With his NFL career seemingly hanging in the balance, Robinson picked up the pieces and impressed Volentine with his off-the-field growth once more.
“Being out for a year and a half or two years and then to come back it shows what type of character do you really have. To be able to get back to that point where you are competing with the best, it's a true testament to his character,” Volentine said. “[…] It just proves how hard he has worked to get back to the level that he is at right now. He did not accept being defeated, he worked harder to get better and what he's doing and at his occupation. And now all of his dreams are coming true.”
Volentine added that he has gotten to coach “a lot of guys in 24 years, but he is probably the fastest one. It's God-given ability, and it's pretty neat to watch how he has progressed from high school to college and now in the NFL competing for Super Bowl this weekend.
“[…] Nobody could run like he could, but if you love and care about the game, then you can almost play like he can. That is what I hope I get across to all my players – loving and caring about the game. There's no other feeling like it.,” Volentine added. “If you get out there and play for it and play for your team, that's the most important thing. He is very lucky, and there are a lot of guys who play a long time in the NFL and don't get the chance that he is about to get, so I hope he cherishes it and takes advantage of it and understands that it's not going to come around every year.”
As Volentine described it, the relationship between a coach and pupil is much like a father and son. There are disputes, certainly, but, in the end, there seems always to be a sense of pride when the younger becomes the star that the elder always knew was possible.
“As long as I have coached I have never had a kid who could run that fast,” Volentine added. “I never thought I'd say it, but I'm cheering for the Atlanta Falcons and number 19.”
As for any advice the coach would dish to Robinson just before he takes the field Sunday afternoon in Houston, it is pretty simple really.
“Have fun. That's what it all boils down to. It's still just a game.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith