PELLA — Hunter Robinson seemed content with his experience at Central College.
Academics were great for the Business Administration major. He had built strong relationships, especially with his football teammates. The former scout team member turned punt returner and senior wide receiver wasn’t satisfied with his on-field contribution entering his final season.
“I was getting real close (with my teammates),” Robinson said. “I was getting a great education, but I just decided why not make something more out of my opportunity in athletics.
“Going into this year, I think my mindset changed a little knowing that this is my last time I’ll ever be able to play the sport again. We had a really great team around us. I thought I had a great opportunity to help this team as much as I could.”
Robinson has made an impact in his last campaign, tying the program’s single-season record with 12 touchdown receptions entering Saturday’s game against Wartburg. The Dutch (7-1, 5-1) trail the 11th-ranked Knights (8-0, 6-0) by a game in the American Rivers Conference standings with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“So far, it’s been a great season for us,” Robinson said. “We’re right where we want to be going into these final two games. We have a chance to be conference champions and obviously that’s the goal.”
The 6-foot, 190-pounder has 642 yards on 44 receptions, averaging 14.6 per catch, and his dozen scores is good for a three-way tie atop the conference. Not bad for a player who has progressed from a practice squad and junior varsity games to printing his name in the program’s record book.
“He’s that perfect example for all of your players, especially young players, of what development and commitment are all about,” Central Coach Jeff McMartin said. “He showed great gains. He got stronger, faster and improved his technique. He always had great speed, but really refined and developed a lot of other things that really made him a complete receiver.”
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Martin praised Robinson for his perseverance and dedication. He noted that Robinson’s impact has been much more than anything that surfaces in the box score.
“He’s a well-rounded young man,” McMartin said. “He’s a good student, good person and has a strong faith. He’s a very good teammate.”
Robinson just didn’t step into the program as the team’s second-leading receiver. McMartin said his staff was alerted of the former Lisbon prep by an alumnus late in the recruiting process. Robinson didn’t lead the Lions in receptions, but showed potential.
“When you watched him on film, you saw he had the tools,” McMartin said. “He had a lot of great skills. It was going to be a matter of opportunity and development. Hunter embraced that and worked hard.”
The first challenge was competing for snaps and climbing the depth chart. Robinson received some action as a sophomore and junior, taking advantage of chances as the Dutch’s leading punt returner last season with almost a 10-yard average.
The second challenge was fighting through a nagging groin injury that limited his ability to use his speed as a receiver. He even sat out of practices to rest so he was healthy enough for games. This offseason allowed him to mend, focusing on strength and speed in the weight room.
“I’ve been really healthy all this year,” Robinson said. “It’s crazy how big of a difference it is.”
Confidence allowed him to establish himself as a key component in the pass game. Actually, Robinson made an immediate impact, catching an 18-yard pass for Central’s first touchdown of the season.
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“He got off to a strong start for us,” McMartin said. “The first game of the season he had a highlight reel touchdown catch. It really got our season and offense started.”
He finished with two in that win over Northwestern (Minn.), but his four-TD performance against Loras proved to Robinson that he wasn’t just a fluke.
Robinson added two touchdowns — 5 and 24 yards — against rival Simpson to match the single-season record shared by Sam Markham (2016), Chris Johnson (1997) and Geoff Lamb (1995).
“It’s a great honor,” Robinson said. “We have a really great group. Our offensive line has been awesome all year, giving (quarterback) Blaine Hawkins protection. Blaine has been really smart with the ball. It’s just fallen in my hands quite a few times this year and it’s a really cool feeling.”
McMartin said Robinson showed his versatility against the Storm, going low to catch one score in one corner and “climbing the ladder” to catch a high pass in the opposite corner for the next.
One of McMartin’s messages to players is finishing strong. The idea may be geared toward finishing plays, drives and games, but it fits for careers. It is gratifying for him to see a player at his best as a senior.
“He’s going to go out that way,” McMartin said. “A lot of people won’t remember him as a freshman, but they’ll always remember him as a senior. He’s left a great legacy from that standpoint.”
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