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On the first day of fall camp in 2011, UK football head coach Joker Phillips spoke of the need to receive contributions from his freshmen wide receivers.
Injuries, academic issues, position changes and decisions to redshirt certain players eventually whittled the crop of five freshmen receivers to one, Demarco Robinson, but Robinson never lived up to the hype in 2011, totaling seven receptions for 17 yards and seven carries for three yards.
Phillips didn’t mince words when recently asked if he saw the light come on for Robinson at any point in his freshman season.
“No,” he said. “In the spring he made a play in every scrimmage we had, but then you still kind of wonder whether or not he’s really there.”
Phillips has moved past those questions. Throughout the first week of fall camp, the third-year head coach has been reluctant to single out any player for their performance. He has made an exception to that rule for Robinson.
Which young receiver has impressed Phillips? Robinson.
Who does Phillips consider to be his fastest players? “Demarco would be one of those guys.”
Who is playing with the most confidence this fall? “The Robinson kid.”
Who is Phillips most eager to see in a game-like scenario? Demarco Robinson.
“He’s such a talented guy, who now understands what’s going on, which allows him to play a little bit faster, a lot smoother in how he does things because he’s so confident,” Phillips said.
Robinson impressed in the last scrimmage situation viewed by the media and the public with nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue-White game. Robinson said he has carried that success into the fall.
“I’m doing what I’ve got to do now,” he said. “I’m not making the same mistakes I made last year. I’m working hard at my craft to get better.”
Robinson will likely start at one receiver position opposite of senior La’Rod King. He will also likely see time as a punt and kick returner.
“The thing about (Robinson) is he had a good spring, and I think it’s carried over into the fall,” said wide receivers coach Pat Washington. “I think he’s practicing with a lot of confidence. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. That’s what he did in the spring. He started the spring, he continued through the summer and now he’s doing the same things right now.”
Phillips attributes part of Robinson’s newfound confidence on the field to his success during the spring and summer in the classroom.
“Once grades came out after the spring semester, he felt really good about himself, because not only had he accomplished things on the field, he accomplished things off the field also,” Phillips said. “And this summer he goes out and aces both of his classes. A lot of that has to do with growing up.”
If Robinson is to live up to the pressure being placed on him by the UK coaching staff, he’ll have to overcome at least one perceived limitation: his size. Robinson is listed in the media guide at 5-foot-10, 158 pounds, much smaller than most of the defenders he will face in the Southeastern Conference.
Phillips isn’t worried about Robinson’s diminutive stature.
“I think he has enough ‘quicks,’ and I think we’ll line him up in enough different spots that you can’t always say ‘we’re going to press him,’” Phillips said. “He’s inside sometimes, he’s outside. He’s becoming a guy you can depend on.”
Learning the routes for one wide receiver position is a difficult task for many young players, but Phillips’ plan to move Robinson to different positions adds to his workload.
“He has to really concentrate in meetings,” Washington said of Robinson. “He has to really pay attention during practice. There’s no time for him to slack off. Right now, I think he understands probably about 60 percent of everything, talking about all positions.”
Robinson isn’t overwhelmed by the task.
“It’s not really that hard,” he said. “Offensively, if you learn one route you should know the other ones, so you know how the play works.”
That confidence should serve Robinson well in trying to live up to the hype being placed on him.
His coaches think he can handle it.
“The young man has grown a lot since last year,” Washington said. “He really has. You hope the pressure won’t get to him because there will be pressure. If coach Phillips is talking about him, it’s in the newspapers and the other teams are seeing that as well.”
Phillips understands the implications of singling Robinson out this early in camp.
“He’s definitely a guy that’s grown enough that you feel comfortable talking about him. I think he can handle the things we’re saying.”