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August 7, 2010Even as he stepped onto Arizona State's campus as a freshman in 2008, 6-foot-4 wide receiver Gerell Robinson passed the proverbial eye test.
It's an exam he's acing now, and the junior is more confident than ever that his enhanced physical tools are going to lead to big production for the Sun Devils.
"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," Robinson at ASU's Media Day.
One of the top returning receivers from a season ago (26 receptions, 261 yards), the Hamilton High product worked tirelessly to improve his physique in the offseason. Extended weight room sessions, an improved diet and even a stab at yoga with sophomore quarterback and friend Brock Osweiler, have Robinson, the receiver said, weighing 216 pounds with four percent body fat.
"He put in a lot of work this summer to change his body and really get in the weight room and do work there," junior quarterback Steven Threet said of Robinson. "He studied a lot and he's moved to inside receiver, which I think has helped him also. He put in a lot of effort and I think it's started to pay off for him."
After playing all over the field at Hamilton, much was expected out of Robinson when he arrived at ASU, but the full-time transition to wide receiver -- not his natural position in high school -- came with its fair share of growing pains.
ASU coach Dennis Erickson said it may have been too much, too soon for Robinson.
"He probably shouldn't have played as a true freshman," the coach said. "I look at him [as a freshman] and I look at him now, and he's a totally different guy, physically and mentally. I always use to think you can play freshmen, but it's hard."
Lacking depth at skill positions, a record 10 true freshman were pressed into action in 2008, and Robinson admitted there was frustration, at times, during a season in which he caught just three passes for 26 yards.
Still, the wide receiver who has been sporting a noticeably sunny disposition during team workouts this season, isn't playing the what-if game and doesn't regret not using a redshirt year.
"I take the positive from the negative," Robinson said. "Outside looking in it wasn't too pretty, but going through what I went through, I don't think I'd be the same person today if I hadn't gone through all the hard things to learn where I need to be for the future. I would definitely say I was a little wide-eyed, but I learned a lot from it."
Crediting his time under the tutelage of former wide receivers coach Eric Yarber (now with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Robinson said he is now comfortable at his adopted position. His routes are as crisp as they've ever been, and his large hands have rarely let a ball hit the turf early in fall camp.
While practices in shorts and helmets aren't a definite indicator of improvement, Robinson is confident the progress he has made will transfer to Saturdays.
And he isn't letting anybody think otherwise.
Robinson has been one of the most vocal players in camp, mixing friendly trash-talking with words of encouragement for newer teammates. One of the team's resident smack talkers, cornerback Omar Bolden, said he is thrilled to see a player on the other side of the ball demonstrating some bravado.
"Some guys can't stand it, but I love to hear guys on the other side talk," Bolden said. "It kind of gives them some swag, and that's what we need across the board. If you've been at practice you've noticed it, that when he's talking, he's on. It may not be a bad thing for him to run his mouth, and like I said, I enjoy it."
Robinson knows that talking is just that until some results are put on the board, but that isn't going to stop him from jawing during practice. The wide receiver expects to be "a focal part of the offense," holding a responsibility to lead with words and performance.
"If you're gonna talk, you've got to back it up," he said. "You've got to put up or shut up, and I'm not going to shut up. I'm going to keep talking and keep performing, and that's what it's about."