Citadel LB sparks defense

Citadel linebackers, and roommates, Carl Robinson (left) and Rah Muhammad are back after season-ending injuries last year. (Paul Zoeller/Staff)

The saddest room in The Citadel’s barracks last year might have belonged to Carl Robinson and Rah Muhammad.

The Bulldogs’ linebackers, both juniors and both from Alabama, each suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks in 2012. Robinson tore his ACL against Chattanooga on Sept. 29, and Muhammad broke his ankle the next week at Samford.

“It was pitiful,” Robinson recalled. “Our room was full of crutches and casts and all that stuff. It hurt so bad, watching our teammates play without us.”

A year later, both Robinson and Muhammad are back in the starting lineup for the Bulldogs (1-2), who are at Old Dominion (1-2) on Saturday.

And Robinson, who was leading the Southern Conference in tackles when he got hurt last year, has picked up right where he left off. After three games, Robinson is again the SoCon’s top tackler, averaging 13 stops per game.

The only difference? This year, Robinson is a bit heavier (6-1, 245 pounds) and a bit louder.

“In our first three games, Carl has really been the voice on the sidelines,” said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins. “When our guys come off the field, he’s the guy that corrals the defense, gets them together and encourages them.

“The leadership skills he’s grown into have really helped tremendously.”

Robinson’s tackles and talking have been equally vital for The Citadel’s defense in the absence of another junior linebacker, Carson Smith, who dislocated his ankle in preseason practice.

Even without Smith, the Bulldogs’ defense ranks third in the SoCon in total defense, allowing 341 yards per game.

“Last year, Carson and I tried to work on that together,” said Robinson, who had nine tackles and forced a fumble in last week’s 28-21 win at Western Carolina. “So when he got hurt, I knew I had to step up and take on more of that role.

“I just try to preach to the guys, we’re all good players and we should all be leaders. We have our captains, and we look to them first, but after that we should all be leaders. When we see something going wrong, we should all do something about it.”

Citadel coaches saw those leadership qualities in Robinson when they recruited him out of Irvington, Ala., which is along the Gulf Coast near Mobile. He was a team captain and defensive MVP at Theodore High School.

“We knew he could handle The Citadel, and that’s one of the first things we try to discern,” Higgins said. “He has his academics in order, he does the right thing in the Corps of Cadets. When you have a handle on those two things, football becomes easier.”

Robinson and his defensive mates face a unique challenge this week at Old Dominion, which features a wide-open attack led by junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke, the 2012 Walter Payton Award winner as the top player in FCS, threw for 406 yards and four touchdowns in a 76-19 win over Howard last week.

“It will be a big challenge for the linebackers,” he said. “We’ll see how well we can cover guys in space, how fast we can get to the perimeter and how smart we can be. It should be fun.”