Andrea Robinson wasn’t expecting a whole lot. Her son Shawn Robinson had started the first two games for Missouri at quarterback, but after being benched in the second game of the season, he hadn’t seen a lot of playing time.
Then, her 16-year-old twin sons, and Shawn’s brothers, Jacobe and Jamal, both ran downstairs to tell her that Shawn had gotten in the game. Not at quarterback, but at safety.
Andrea had heard about the position switch but wasn’t sure if Shawn would get to play. After hearing the news, they watched Shawn play snap after snap and become Missouri’s lone bright spot in a blowout loss to Mississippi State to end the regular season Saturday. Shawn finished with five tackles and an interception.
“I was shocked,” Andrea said. “Completely shocked.”
The position change came as a surprise to anyone outside the program. Robinson transferred to Missouri as a former four-star recruit and a U.S. Army All-American at quarterback.
He made one of the best defensive plays of the game when he jumped a screen pass, knocking the ball in the air before snatching it as he fell to the turf.
After the play, Robinson wore the team’s turnover robe on the sideline on top of his number 12 jersey. He had to switch numbers to avoid wearing the same number as safety Martez Manuel.
“It’s been a long year, to say the least,” Robinson said Saturday. “Yeah, it’s just been such a long year. Just everything that’s just been going on in the world, just in life in general. This moment was really cool, to say the least. I haven’t even really felt it yet with just all the emotions going on. It’s hard to kind of explain and express how I’m feeling right now.”
After transferring in 2019, Robinson spent the whole year with Austyn Carta-Samuels and the coaching staff working as a quarterback on the scout team in hopes of becoming the successor to Kelly Bryant in 2020.
“When he transferred over to Missouri, he put in a year’s worth of work being in the indoor (facility) throwing the buckets, just working on touch, accuracy, just really trying to focus on the things he needed to do to get better,” Andrea said. “And then when you come in, and you switch your staff, everything’s different.”
Former MU coach Barry Odom was fired after the 2019 season, and most of his staff left with him. Eliah Drinkwitz came to Columbia and held an open competition. It looked like all the hard work had paid off for Robinson when he won the starting quarterback job in fall camp. Instead, Robinson was benched after five quarters for redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak.
“It was heartbreaking,” Andrea said. “Because you put in so much time to be great at something for it not to manifest.”
Bazelak never let go of the job with an impressive season and was named the Southeastern Conference’s co-freshman of the year Tuesday. With Bazelak as the team’s quarterback of the future, Robinson didn’t have a clear path to playing time at QB.
“If I wanted to play quarterback, obviously I couldn’t play here and be the guy, because obviously Connor is the guy,” Robinson said.
That forced him to make a decision between transferring to a third college in three years or finding a different path onto the field.
Drinkwitz gave Robinson that path when he came to him with an idea about a month ago. Robinson would switch to defensive back, where Missouri had gotten increasingly thin with injuries, opt-outs and transfers.
“It was awkward, a little bit, for me just on my end,” Robinson said. “He saw it in me, but I didn’t see it because it was just so left field for me. It’s just like, ‘Defense? I’ve never really thought of doing that.’ Especially in the SEC and at a level like this.”
Andrea said he mulled over the decision for weeks while recovering from an ankle injury he suffered against LSU. Robinson was split out wide for a trick play in his first game as Bazelak’s backup and rolled his ankle.
Robinson took a couple of weeks off from the team and talked to his father, Othell, and middle school coach and former NFL defensive back Kevin Mathis.
“I had to take some time to really think about it and just make sure that that’s what I really want to do, because growing up all I’ve done is play quarterback,” Robinson said.
Robinson made peace with the position change and returned to the team before playing on special teams against Georgia on Dec. 12. He wouldn’t opt out and transfer to play elsewhere but would instead learn a new role and give Missouri the much-needed depth at defensive back after a series of injuries, opt-outs and COVID-19 absences at the position.
“I really like my teammates,” Robinson said. “I love my team. I love the coaching staff. I really love Mizzou, so I’m gonna stay and play for my dogs.”
After what Drinkwitz called “a good week of practice,” Robinson played a defensive snap for the first time since eighth grade when he took the field against Mississippi State.
“Just incredibly proud of that young man,” Drinkwitz said. “In a day and age where other people would have just put their name in the portal or transferred or opted out, he stuck with us.”
Robinson will have an opportunity for a significant role next season. Two of Missouri’s starting safeties, Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe, are leaving for the NFL Draft this spring after graduating.
At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Robinson is bigger than any of Missouri’s defensive backs and is the same size as a couple of the team’s linebackers. He has speed from his days as a dual-threat quarterback, and his experience as a signal-caller gives him the ability to diagnose an offense’s tendencies. Robinson’s pick came because he diagnosed a screen almost immediately before running in and breaking up the pass.
Robinson admitted he still has some technique to learn and that the switch is still in its early stages. He will also likely have an opportunity to play as a quarterback elsewhere if he wants to, but that doesn’t seem like a change he’ll be making.
“I’m a safety now,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t gonna play safety. I’m all in.”