DeMarcus Robinson never outlined his path from star high school football player to starting college running back, but he hoped for the same thing as every recruit when he signed with Kansas State four years ago. He wanted to play right away.
As the highest-rated member of his recruiting class — a four-star Rivals.com prospect — few disagreed with the assertion. It took Robinson, a former Wichita Northwest standout, four years as a third-stringer to rise to the top of K-State’s depth chart, so he understandably fought emotions when he made his first start against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.
“Being on the field in the stadium was surprising,” Robinson said. “Just being out there on the field and the emotions that. ... Coming here, I knew that they had a lot of good running backs. Obviously, I wanted to (play earlier), but things happen. I was always ready just in case injuries happened, but not playing football for so long was hard.
“To be out there in practice and scrimmages and to do good and be like, ‘Man, I just want to show everybody what I can do,’ and never get the opportunity. ... I just tried to stay positive, and that helped me stick with it.”
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The way he played in his starting debut will help him keep going.
Robinson looked good in most phases, rushing for 49 yards on 11 carries and catching a team-high four passes for 47 yards. He missed a few blocks as a pass protector, allowing a sack in the first quarter, but he played well enough to eclipse his career statistics — 11 rushes for 45 yards and no catches — and to earn praise from K-State coach Bill Snyder.
“DeMarcus played well,” Snyder said. “He wasn’t 100 percent as far as grades are concerned, but he was very high. He caught the ball when we threw it to him, his protection was good, assignment-wise he was good. When he got the chance to get his hands on the ball, he ran hard with it.”
His teammates, especially those from the Wichita area, were also proud of him.
“D-Mac has been going through a lot since he’s been here,” senior center B.J. Finney said. “For him to stick with it and finally get his start, that is a huge testament to him. A lot of respect needs to be given to him for fighting through what he has. He is a very talented guy, very quick running. He runs hard, so coaches had faith in him and he got to run the ball.”
Added cornerback Morgan Burns: “It was just great to see him play well. He has really matured, he knows the offense and he ran hard. He was really explosive. I was really happy to see him play that well.”
Robinson’s progression was slowed for various reasons. He has battled injuries throughout his college career. He has lacked aggression and been outplayed. When Robinson signed with the Wildcats, Daniel Thomas ran for 2,850 yards in two seasons, making him the third-leading rusher in program history. Then John Hubert took over and ran for 2,993 yards in three seasons as a starter, earning the No. 2 spot in the record book.
With capable backups William Powell, Angelo Pease and Robert Rose also competing for playing time, Robinson could never consistently work his way onto the field.
This season, he is the most experienced running back on the team. Perhaps that helped him pass sophomore Charles Jones last week for the starting spot. Jones, who had 72 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in his debut, is listed as the starter heading into Saturday’s game at Iowa State, but that means little. Robinson and Jones are expected to share carries.
They both bring something different, with Jones taking snaps out of the wildcat formation and Robinson catching passes out of the backfield. Against an Iowa State defense that allowed 299 rushing yards in a home loss to North Dakota State, they should both get opportunities to shine.
Robinson admits he is already expecting bigger things. Before his first play in the opener, Robinson quietly repeated the words “Don’t mess up” to himself. By game’s end, he was scrolling through hundreds of congratulatory texts.
His nerves and his doubts are now gone.
“I made the decision to come here,” Robinson said, “and I wouldn’t change it.”
Snyder said star receiver Tyler Lockett will likely return to an every-down role against Iowa State after spending most of the opener on the sideline. But he avoided a question about the status of junior left tackle Cody Whitehair. The offensive lineman missed portions of the Stephen F. Austin game with an apparent injury to his right ankle. The setback isn’t believed to be long term, as he walked off the field and into the locker room under his own power. But his playing status for Saturday remains in doubt.
A number of K-State players saw their first action over the weekend. After reviewing the game, Snyder said he was proud of backup left tackle Ajhane Brager, right tackle Matt Kleinsorge and linebacker Elijah Lee.
Lee, a freshman from Blue Springs, attended K-State’s news conference Tuesday after making two sacks and forcing a fumble in his first game.
Lee played on third downs as a standup defensive end. He is already showing off his pass-rush skills.
“At first it was surreal to me, because I didn’t expect to play as a true freshman,” Lee said. “Now that I have the opportunity, I will take advantage of any opportunity the coaches give me.”
Respect for North Dakota State
K-State players said they weren’t surprised to see North Dakota State beat Iowa State 34-14. After losing to the Bison last year, the Wildcats knew of the team’s talents.
“North Dakota State is the truth,” Burns said. “I’m impressed by them and hope they have a great season.”