UK Football

Soft-spoken defensive star now stepping up as a leader for UK football

What happened on that final play at Florida?

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about the final play of UK’s 27-16 win at Florida. The Florida quarterback was hit while passing. UK’s Davonte Robinson picked up the ball and ran it to the end zone as most players watched.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about the final play of UK’s 27-16 win at Florida. The Florida quarterback was hit while passing. UK’s Davonte Robinson picked up the ball and ran it to the end zone as most players watched.

One of the Kentucky football team’s most dependable defensive backs is also one of its quietest players.

Davonte Robinson — a Henry Clay graduate who has played in UK’s last 26 football games after redshirting his freshman season — isn’t silent on the stat sheet: he was the team’s sixth-leading tackler last year with 68, the second-most among returning players to the defense (Kash Daniel had 84). He had four pass breakups — tied for third on the team and the most among returnees — and recovered two fumbles, including one forever ingrained in UK lore: a 30-yard scoop up to insure the Wildcats’ first victory over Florida since 1986.

Robinson is literally quiet. If all 6-foot-2 of him didn’t standout among a gaggle of reporters, you might not realize he was there.

“On the field, if we give up a deep pass, I’ll scream a little bit, but I’ve always been soft-spoken,” Robinson said following a spring practice last Thursday. “But I’m working on it and teaching them, cause that’s what they used to do to me.”

“Them” is a trio of cornerbacks who redshirted last season — sophomore Cedrick Dort, freshman Jamari Brown and freshman Stanley Garner — as well as Brandin Echols and Quandre Mosely, both junior-college transfers, and freshman Taj Dodson; they all enrolled in January.

“They” are the NFL-hopeful standouts from a secondary who helped make UK’s defense one of the Southeastern Conference’s most effective against the pass in 2018: Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Lonnie Johnson, Darius West and Chris Westry.

West was by far the most vocal.

“He was always like, ‘C’mon bro, c’mon bro, you can do it,’” Robinson said with a laugh. “He was a great example.”

Demetrius Gay, an assistant coach for the Henry Clay football team and head coach of the track-and-field team whom Robinson led to its first state championship, believes in his former star’s ability to raise his voice.

“He’s not a very vocal guy, he is a lead-by-example kind of kid,” Gay wrote in a message to the Herald-Leader. “Him taking on more of a vocal role of leadership is awesome and those around him will benefit tremendously.”

Defensive coordinator Brad White referred to Robinson and Jordan Griffin — a senior-to-be and UK’s only other returnee in the secondary with significant playing time — as “security blanket” players.

“They’ve got the experience and those are the guys that the secondary looks to and wants to lean on,” White said after Thursday’s practice. “We need D-Rob to be a big factor for us this year, and he’s gotta be. And he’s gotta do it for, 12, 13, hopefully 14 games come the fall.”

Robinson “looks the part” of a safety who can take hits in the SEC, White said. He’s hoping to get up to 205 pounds by the start of the season, which is about where Johnson was last year.

Adding some mass should help Robinson’s durability for increased activity in the defense; he said White wants to involve him in more blitzes and get production behind the line of scrimmage similar to what Edwards was able to achieve last season: 82 tackles, including nine for a loss, second only to Josh Allen.

“Mike last year, I think, probably didn’t get enough credit for how much of an eraser he was,” White said. “Everybody thinks about the big plays Mike’s made, but it was more the plays that he erased when he made what could have been really big plays into just, ‘OK, it was an 8-, 9-yard play and he got it to the ground and we can play again.’ That’s what we need D-Rob to do this year. He needs to be able to make those plays that erase big, explosive plays. … It’s a big boy league. Balls are gonna come down hill, ball carriers, and he’s gonna have to make tackles against some big backs.”

White lauded Robinson’s willingness and ability to tackle, as well as the steps he’s taking to improve his physicality. Will a bigger frame unlock a larger voice box?

“He wants us to have a bigger voice in the room cause we’re the old heads now,” Robinson said. “I have to challenge myself to be more vocal.”

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