Wan’Dale Robinson has only been with the Nebraska football program for about 10 months, but in that short amount of time the freshman from Frankfort, Kentucky, has made an impression on both coaches and teammates.
“He’s a special character,” junior offensive lineman Matt Farniok said. “It’s been pretty evident ever since he even got here. He’s a great worker. He’s a hard worker. He doesn’t really have the freshman mentality of waiting. He wants to just attack and he’s going to find a way to make a play happen.”
Robinson has done that through the first eight games of the season heading into Saturday’s game at Purdue. He has 297 yards rushing on 71 carries and leads the team in catches with 33 for 407 yards and two touchdowns.
But those numbers don’t really tell you the whole story about Robinson’s effect on the Husker team. Even as a young player, he’s earned the respect of his teammates. When he gets up and says something in front of the team, they listen.
“He’s is doing something I feel like all of the seniors should be doing,” Farniok said. “To see somebody younger trying to keep some of the older guys to a standard, I think that’s phenomenal. It motivates me to do more and say more.”
Robinson is a smaller back. He’s played both receiver and running back and is listed at 5-10 and 190 pounds, but both might be generous measurements.
He’s shown his toughness, particularly in games at Illinois and then against Indiana when he took over as basically an every-down back in the second half of those games.
In both games, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to run it hard between the tackles.
He’s shown the toughness head coach Scott Frost is looking for from all his players.
“All my life I’ve been smaller than most of the guys tackling me,” Robinson said. “I’ve taken some hits all my life. That’s just how I’ve always been, being tough is something you can’t question. If you’re playing football you have to be tough. As a small guy I’ve always prided myself on being tough and being able to get right back up even if I get hit hard.”
That toughness has earned him respect from his teammates.
“I think part of that is guys see him on the field, they see him battle and play tough and take big hits and make big catches,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “He’s earned that respect, the respect from the whole team, especially the older guys on the team, and he’s earned that voice.
“He’s found his way, as all true freshmen have to do, something I went through as well. I think he’s been doing a great job for us and he’s starting to figure it out.”
Robinson had 22 carries for 83 yards against Indiana. He also caught six passes for 71 yards to give him 28 touches for the game.
That’s fine with him.
“Like I said in the press conference on Saturday, I don’t care how many times they need me to carry the ball,” Robinson said. “If that’s 30 times I’ll carry it 30 times, if it’s 10 times I’ll carry it 10 times. Whatever they need me to do I’m going to do to help our team win.”
When Frost talks about what he’s looking for from his players, you get the feeling he could be talking about Robinson.
He seems to deliver in all those categories.
Frost is trying to bring the culture back to where it was in the 1990s when Nebraska was a dominant player on the national scene. He knows what it takes because of his three years with the program, including two years as the starting quarterback for coach Tom Osborne.
“Greatness was expected, demanded, the standard,” Frost said. “That is what we need to get back to and part of that is expecting that out of everyone on your team, expecting to win and going out and making it happen. Those kinds of things.
“... I think there are a lot of young kids who want it to be that way and expect it to get that way and get that way soon. We need everybody on board and pulling the same direction.”
Robinson might be a player that can help get everyone pulling in the same direction. He certainly wants to help change the culture around the program.
“We aren’t done talking about it, but everybody knows what’s expected and what Coach Frost wants out of everybody,” Robinson said. “That’s what everybody has tried to do, just know exactly what he (Frost) wants and give everything you’ve got every play.”
Frost indicated after the loss to Indiana that not everyone has bought in. Robinson said he and some of the younger players are working hard on that, attempting to pull in some of the older players that maybe aren’t all in yet.
“I think we are going to get to the point, especially towards the end of the season, everybody is going to buy in and I think you’ll see a much different and driven Husker football team towards the end of the year,” Robinson said.
And the end of the year is drawing ever nearer.