HARRISONBURG — As James Madison University made its playoff run to a Football Championship Subdivision national championship last season, Rashad Robinson could only stand and watch.
Robinson suffered a medial collateral ligament tear right before the playoffs, and missed the last four games. The JMU junior cornerback said it was depressing being on the sidelines, but he also knew he had to be there for his teammates.
“It was kind of hard for me at first, but I couldn’t be selfish,” Robinson said. “Like coach told me I had a big part in starting every regular season game. So when the playoffs came I wasn’t selfish. I was just ready to help coach the other guys in the corners room and the defensive backs. And do what I could on the sidelines to hype them up, be the hype man, talk to them when they’re down and when they needed it.”
Robinson is healthy this year and hoping he can help lead JMU to another national championship — and this time play in the postseason. The Dukes open the playoffs on Dec. 2 at home against either Lehigh or Stony Brook.
The 5-foot-11, 182-pound Robinson has made a big impact all season for the Dukes. He has 33 tackles and five interceptions for the Dukes this season.
The success Robinson has had at cornerback has come through his ability to learn the position quickly. Robinson said he played very little at cornerback in high school. Robinson said he was mostly a quarterback at Hermitage High School in Richmond.
Robinson said he knew he was probably too small to play at quarterback at a big college, so he knew he would have to play in the secondary.
He said his first season at JMU was very difficult.
“It was very tough, especially playing at the Division I level, coming in as a corner,” Robinson said. “You’re competing with guys that had played corner all their life, played defensive back all their life. So I kind of had to hurry up and fast forward myself, pick up the pace. I just watched film, used my technique. And I just worked very hard in the off seasons to get to where I am now.”
Robinson had a decision to make when it came to choosing a college. Robinson said he had offers from the University of Nevada to play in the secondary and from Army as a quarterback. Robinson said he chose JMU in part because it was close to home.
Three years later, Robinson said he couldn’t be happier with that decision.
“I’m a big family man, very big family man,” Robinson said. “So every game to always have somebody from my family here at the game, it’s very nice. There’s nothing like looking at the stands during the game and seeing your mom with your jersey on, my dad being here, my brother. I have a big family so they always come to every game, even the away games.”
Last year, Robinson was having a solid season before his injury. He had 36 tackles and two interceptions.
Earlier this week, Robinson was named a first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection at cornerback.
JMU coach Mike Houston said Robinson is a calming influence among the players in the secondary.
Houston said that Robinson as well as the other players in the secondary have had a great season.
“He’s a great young man,” Houston said of Robinson. “Coming into the year, he worked so hard to prepare himself. I thought our secondary as a whole, especially our corners room had a great regular season. And I think you ask anybody in the league, they are a big factor as to why we were able to do what we did defensively. Because we were able to sit there and play press-man coverage tight against the good receivers in our league.”
JMU’s defense is ranked No. 1 in FCS in scoring defense and total defense.
Robinson said one of the keys to JMU’s success this season comes from the experience the defense has. He said they are truly like a family and work together to make plays.
“There’s a lot of second-year guys in our defense,” Robinson said. “We’ve achieved success together. We have a big family. We’re all brothers. It’s just a combination of having great schemes and us just buying into (JMU defensive coordinator Bob) Trott’s words.”
Robinson said the team had two main goals this season. The first was to win the CAA title, which the team did last weekend. The second goal is to go back to the national championship game in Frisco, Texas, and repeat as national champions.
“We had a lot of accolades and stuff, but it starts over now,” Robinson said. “In the playoffs everyone is 0-0 and none of the accolades matter. All we’re focused on right now is just trying to get back to Frisco and get another ring.”