Robertson ready to lead Dukes’ defense

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Stephon Robertson has received just about every accolade possible at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

The James Madison University redshirt senior has been selected the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year. He’s been all-CAA, and he’s been on numerous All-American teams. Last year he was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year. This year he was voted to several preseason All-American teams, Preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year and he’s on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, given to the top defensive player in FCS. Despite all of that, Robertson knows there’s more important things than just winning awards.

“I can’t say I don’t like it because I do,” Robertson said. “Most people ask me, ‘Is it great being a preseason this or preseason that?,’ and I’m just like, ‘It mostly matters after the season.’

“My first priority is just being a leader of this team. Leading this team to a conference championship, and then playoffs hopefully. That’s the only thing I care about right now.”

For all of the awards that he has and will win, Robertson leads the Dukes as good as anything that he does.

He is the quarterback of the defense, calling plays, and his knowledge of the game has been a key to his success. Robertson also the special ability to make decisions in a split second.

“He’s just got great eyes and instincts,” JMU defensive coordinator Kyle Gillenwater said. “He can be dead wrong and he’ll see it immediately to make full speed decisions, full speed corrections. He understands the game. He understands the system really well.”

As a redshirt freshman out of Edison High School in Arlington, Robertson made 90 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss. He forced three fumbles and deflected three passes and started 10 games for the Dukes.

Each season his number have improved. Last year he finished with 101 tackles, including 48 solo, one forced fumble, one interception and five pass deflections.

Robertson said he’s worked hard in the offseason trying to improve his game. He has had only two interceptions in his career, and he said he wants to have more this season.

Late in the season last year, the Dukes began to use him on blitzes more often, and that is another aspect that he wants to continue to improve on.

Robertson said he didn’t take a day off during the summer, and it was well worth it.

“This is my life right here — this is my everything,” Robertson said. “I truly believe there’s one thing that everybody’s born with that they’re great at, and this is my one thing and I love it.”

Robertson said part of what drives him is to keep improving, and try to keep his career going past college.

“That’s another dream of mine,” Robertson said. “I really want to make the NFL — that would be great. That would be the most humbling thing, if I ever could. Hopefully I’ll make it. I know that I’m one of the best linebackers in this division, and I’m on one of the best defenses in the nation. Hopefully, that will help me on my journey.”

Robertson has always had the talent to compete with the best in the country. He was rated by ESPN as one of the top 150 high school players in the country during his time at Edison High School.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews is very happy that he chose to become a Duke.

“Stephon’s the best player in the country — he just is,” Matthews said. “I don’t know what class he’s in, but it doesn’t take long to check roll. I’ve said this many times that I think that it’s unfair — sometimes these [defensive] guys have these huge numbers and played on poor defenses. It’s a situation if they don’t make the tackle, it’s not gonna get made. And you look at their numbers and their playing on defenses that were ranked 90th in the nation.

“Stephon has always been surrounded by good players.”

Robertson said he tried to learn a lot from some of the players who were older than him, and he still keeps in touch with some of them.

Now as his senior season is set to begin, Robertson wants to go out in a blaze of glory and help lead the Dukes into the playoffs again.

“The offense is looking tremendously better than last year, a lot better than last year,” Robertson said. “The defense is looking good. It’s just scary to see where we can go with this because we’ve never been on point at this level right now. If we keep it together and make this run — the sky’s the limit.

“It’s going to be scary if we can put it together.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com