As much fun as everybody involved with the UL Ragin’ Cajuns is having this fall, there are obviously some individuals whose playing time perhaps isn’t as much as expected.
Take senior left tackle Rico Robinson.
The 6-foot-5, 308-pounder from Pensacola, Florida, and brother of former UL star tight end Ladarius Green, started 14 games at left tackle last season.
As part of the coaching staff’s preseason effort to utilize the team’s upgraded depth in all areas, Robinson has played in all eight games, but didn’t start a game until Saturday’s homecoming victory over Texas State.
It’s been one of the biggest question marks surrounding the UL Ragin’ Cajuns since the spring game.
“I felt like I did a lot better being back out there,” said Robinson, whose Sun Belt West-leading Cajuns (6-2, 3-1) travel to meet Coastal Carolina at 6:30 p.m. central Thursday on ESPNU.
“That was probably the most I’ve played in my career, being a rotational guy. I got a little bit tired toward the end, but I felt pretty good out there.”
Starting right tackle Robert Hunt, who came to UL in the same signing class with Robinson as well as four-year starting guard Kevin Dotson, suffered an injury in the Oct. 17 win at Arkansas State. When Hunt wasn’t able to answer the bell Saturday, Plan B involved moving the normal left tackle Max Mitchell to the right side and Robinson returned to his old role as the starting left tackle.
“We consider Rico a sixth starter, we often times use the word five equals one there, but in reality it’s been six equals one for a long time and Rico’s been that guy,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “He played really steady ball, played tremendous for us last year, and a guy that — as long as he practices with the right approach — he’ll play every week.”
As evidence of that, Napier already said in Monday’s weekly press conference Robinson will get a second start at left tackle if Hunt is not ready Thursday.
Robinson said being ready when the Cajuns needed him was about mental focus.
“Just mastering my routine throughout the season, staying engaged with everybody and staying the game plan,” Robinson said. “We have this staying, ‘Work while you wait.’ So I was just staying mentally prepared, staying engaged with each game as we went on.
“Waiting on my chance to go out there and help my teammates out.”
Another big factor in Robinson staying ready was his mind not being clouded with bitterness.
“The whole room is a close-knit group,” Robinson said. “We don’t have any hard feelings about anything. They all talk to me and keep me up. Even Max (Mitchell) helped me, telling me, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep staying with it.’ So they all encouraged me.”
Dotson said Robinson deserves the credit for hanging in there.
“He did it on his own,” Dotson said. “He just realized that he could do better. He just hunkered down during practice and he started going way harder in practice and it showed up in the game.
“The coaches realized that he was doing better at practice so they gave him his opportunity. I was telling him that you’ve got to make them notice you. You’ve got to make them know that you should be here. I think he really took that challenge on.”
Actually, Saturday’s first start wasn’t Robinson’s first highlight of the season. In the 37-20 win at Arkansas State, Robinson delivered the key block in Raymond Calais’ 80-yard touchdown run.
With each passing week, the job UL defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ unit is doing continues to amaze.
“It was a great feeling to be able to win there at Arkansas State, because I know the last time we were there, we got a pretty bad beating,” Robinson said. “Coming back and forth and having my struggles early on in the season, seeing that play coming behind me and him scoring that touchdown, it really meant a lot to me that day.”
Robinson and his offensive colleagues certainly displayed good focus as a group as well. Despite only leading 10-3 at the half, there was no panic.
“Not really, because we knew they were going to do things that we haven’t seen,” Robinson said. “We were just sticking with our runs and correcting things we messed up on and talking to our coaches and correcting the looks we hadn’t seen.
“Just getting on the same page, because we knew sooner or later the runs were going to start popping and the holes would start opening up more.”
In his case, Robinson never really knew if he’d get another chance to start again for the Cajuns.
For many during the preseason, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were supposed to be a team carried by an explosive offense.
In many ways, however, it’s almost fitting that his career has at least one more shining moment.
“Tied into the Lafayette area, because my brother went here, so I really know the place,” Robinson said. “I’ve been here a lot over my years as a kid. I knew (assistant) coach (Troy) Wingerter since I was like 10 or 12. I remember my visit with my brother and he said, ‘You’re going to be here one day. We’re going to be recruiting you.’
“So it’s kind of funny that I ended up here and he’s still here.”
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