As a freshman on a tiny New York campus, Dale Robinson saw major college players on TV — guys he knew he was better than — and worried he would never get a chance to truly showcase his football skills.
On Monday, Robinson’s talent received recognition on one of the highest levels, as the Arizona State middle linebacker was named co-winner of the Pac-10’s Pat Tillman defensive player of the year award.
The honor (shared with Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata) culminated the gridiron fulfillment that Robinson took four years, three schools and a cross-country journey to pursue.
"It was a long road for me," said Robinson, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound senior who is second in the league in tackles (112) and leads in stops for loss (15, with four sacks).
"I never expected coming out of high school that I’d be in this position, let alone in Arizona. It definitely is a big accomplishment for me. The ball has bounced my way, and the Lord above was looking out for me a bit."
Robinson — whose stops before ASU were two years at Division II C.W. Post (N.Y.) and a year at Glendale Community College — benefitted from a new role instituted by first-year defensive coordinator Bill Miller.
This year, Robinson lined up in multiple spots, as Miller tried to put him in positions that afforded him the best route to the ball. Most notably, he was a defensive end in pass-rushing situations.
"A lot of people didn’t know that I could rush the passer and come off the edge," Robinson said. "Now, a lot of people have seen the different aspects of my game."
That versatility figures to serve Robinson well as NFL teams evaluate him in preparation for the NFL draft in April.
He has been selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 21 in San Antonio, but hopes to earn a late invite to the more prestigious Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., a week later.
The three previous ASU winners of the Pac-10 defensive player award — linebackers Tillman in 1997 and Adam Archuleta in 2000 and defensive end Terrell Suggs in 2002 — all became starters in the NFL.
"To be in the same sentence with those guys is a great accomplishment," Robinson said.
Robinson, a first-team selection, and 10 other Sun Devil players received All-Pac-10 honors on Monday.
Wide receiver Derek Hagan, who is headed for the Senior Bowl, and kick returner Terry Richardson were first-team picks, and center Grayling Love was named to the second team.
Offensive linemen Andrew Carnahan and Brandon Rodd, tight end Zach Miller, tailback Rudy Burgess, defensive lineman Jordan Hill, linebacker Jamar Williams and safety Zach Catanese made honorable mention status.