Phil Young remembers the day for two reasons: The field, and the hit.
The Fort Worth Arlington Heights football team, with Young in his first year as an assistant in 2012, was getting turf installed on its practice field. It was an upgrade, but for two-a-days, the Yellow Jackets were displaced to a junior high.
“We were at this beat-up field that looked like a parking lot,” Young remembered. “I turned to another assistant and said, ‘Man, this feels like seventh-grade football.’”
There was nothing seventh-grade about what Young saw next. On a short screen pass, A’Shawn Robinson, Heights’ hulking defensive lineman, rumbled outside and leveled the receiver.
“I thought he broke the kid’s back,” Young said. “We’re practicing on a sticker patch with holes in the ground with this huge monster out there.”
Three years later, Robinson is still causing problems for offenses as a preseason all-American for No. 3 Alabama, which opens its season Saturday against No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN. The network’s popular College GameDay show will air live Saturday morning from downtown Fort Worth.
It’ll be a homecoming for Robinson, who grew up on the Fort Worth’s west side, starred for Heights in football and basketball and signed with the Crimson Tide in 2013.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 302 pounds, Robinson was a 247 Sports Composite five-star in high school. He committed to Texas in February of his junior year, a little less than a year until the 2013 signing day.
But as Robinson’s senior year wore on, his relationship weakened with Texas and Mack Brown, who was starting to find himself on the coaching hot seat in Austin.
“I think [Brown] dropped the ball on the courtship,” Robinson’s mother, Abigail, told AL.com. “He felt like he had him and didn’t court him.”
Four days before signing day, Robinson said he was no longer committed to Texas. Alabama, which had made a strong push for Robinson after the first of the year, became his top option.
“He just really fit in,” Young said. “When Alabama and coach [Nick] Saban came, it was an immediate, ‘This is where I want to be.’”
But if highly touted recruits are known for starring at the next level, they’re also known for not living up to expectations.
Robinson, who’s always been big, faced a unique challenge. Against Heights’ schedule of Fort Worth school district teams, Robinson’s opponents hardly stood a chance.
He adjusted well to the SEC, though, and in 2013, he led Alabama with 51/2 sacks. He was named a freshman all-American by Sporting News and elected to the SEC coaches’ all-freshman team.
Last year, he switched between nose tackle and defensive end and finished with 49 tackles.
“I would say unrealized talent is so common that it’s funny. And he’s not that guy,” Young said. “He’s really taken his talent and gotten it to the next level.”
Robinson’s success has created an easy point of motivation for Young, who was promoted to head coach at Heights in 2013.
The Yellow Jackets’ seniors this year were freshmen when Robinson was a senior. They know him, and the rest of the team definitely knows of him. He comes home for a few weeks each summer.
“There might be six or eight of them out there running a cone drill. It’s A’Shawn,” Young said. “He comes up here like any other poor college kid, driving a beat-up old car.”
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7684
Alabama vs. Wisconsin
7 p.m. Saturday, AT&T Stadium, ESPN