Citadel fullback Darien Robinson’s favorite play is one where he doesn’t even get the football.
“The best touchdowns to me are the ones where I don’t score,” explained Robinson, the centerpiece in the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense. “I’m on the ground and the defense is talking junk because they tackled me.
“Meanwhile, one of our guys is flying up the sidelines and I’m just laughing — ‘Look, I don’t even have the ball.’”
A muscular 6-0 and 220 pounds, Robinson is destined to get tackled whether he has the ball or not. On a basic Citadel option play, the quarterback sticks the football into Robinson’s gut. Depending on his read, the QB will either leave the ball there, or pull it back and keep it or pitch it to a slotback.
Either way, Robinson is in 40 or 50 collisions per game.
“It’s tough,” said the senior from McKeesport, Pa. “But I ran this offense in high school, so I’m used to it. Once the adrenaline gets going in a game, you don’t feel it. You might feel it the morning after, but not in a game.”
Robinson emerged as one of the top fullbacks in FCS last season, rushing for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns on 140 carries while the Bulldogs went 7-4 with wins over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
He is the 11th different player in Citadel history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season; another 1,000 yards this year will push him to No. 4 on the Bulldogs’ career rushing list behind only Stump Mitchell, Everette Sands and Jack Douglas.
Citadel coach Kevin Higgins found Robinson and senior quarterback Ben Dupree on a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania in 2010, just after the coach decided to install the triple-option. Running a similar offense, Robinson had rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior at McKeesport High School.
With four seniors on the Bulldogs’ offensive line and experienced quarterbacks in Dupree and junior Aaron Miller, “D-Rob” could threaten that number this season.
That’s why he’s been fine-tuning his body and his game during the summer.
“D-Rob is a consummate football player,” Higgins said this week after a preseason practice. “He strives to get better in everything he does. This off-season has been about him getting bigger and stronger and keeping his body fresh.
“That’s something we as coaches have to monitor. People don’t realize, in our offense the fullback is getting hit hard on every single play, whether he has the ball or not.”
That makes preseason practice a balancing act for Robinson.
“He’s got to practice to get better and work on the new stuff we have,” Higgins said. “But at the same time, you are concerned about the physical punishment he will receive every day.”
Robinson is not concerned. He relishes the thought of carrying the ball 15 or 20 times a game this season, one in which Citadel fans are hoping the Bulldogs can make a run at the Southern Conference title.
“If I start moving the ball, the offense starts moving,” he said. “That allows Ben to break one, allows us to get the slotbacks out on the perimeter. That’s the whole process, and I love it.”
Bulldogs linebacker Carson Smith suffered a dislocated ankle in practice Friday and is out for the season, according to Citadel sports information. Carson, a 6-2, 225-pound junior, was a preseason all-SoCon pick and led the team with 91 tackles last season.
The Citadel’s annual Meet the Bulldogs event is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at Johnson Hagood Stadium.