Although he’s thriving and enjoying life at Alabama, there is a lot of Texas pride inside the buff body of defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson.
The sophomore from Fort Worth Arlington Heights makes that clear with the large tattoo on his right biceps. It features a wolf and an outline of his home state, emblazoned with the phrase “Texas Made.” As the lone Texan who starts for the Crimson Tide’s stingy defense, the artwork serves as a constant reminder to teammates.
“The guys here know I talk about Texas a lot. I tell them how Texas is better than all the other states,” said Robinson, who added the tattoo in May. “We joke like that a lot about each other’s states. They know I’m going to say something about Texas every day.”
In particular, Robinson said he likes to “rub it in” that the Lone Star State has a reputation for producing the nation’s top high school football talent. Robinson (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) is one of five Texans on the depth chart for Alabama (12-1) heading into Thursday’s Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 4 Ohio State (12-1) at the Superdome.
Although he’s focused on the Buckeyes, Robinson acknowledged that, as a Tarrant County native, it “would be very special” to win and earn a berth in the College Football Playoff national championship game, Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“To go back home and play the national championship game and have all my family and friends there at the game, that would be really great,” said Robinson, who played his first organized football game for a youth-league team in Arlington as a second-grader.
Now, he’s emerged as a mainstay on a unit that leads the nation in rushing defense (88.7 yards per game) and ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (16.6 average). Depending on formation, Robinson may line up at any of three positions along the defensive line.
He mostly lines up at nose guard or defensive end, where he’s earned a reputation as a run-stuffer this season (47 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss) after collecting a team-high 5.5 sacks as a freshman. He’s also received praise from defensive coordinator Kirby Smart for being one of the team’s best-conditioned linemen, which makes him one of the Crimson Tide’s busiest performers in a nine-man rotation in the trenches.
“He’s a great physical force,” Smart said. “He’s hard to block and he’s got really good physical toughness. He’s in really good shape, too. He can play a lot of plays and sustain himself.”
In short, Robinson has lived up to his five-star pedigree despite questions in the minds of some recruiting analysts about his work ethic in high school. Robinson credits that to the way he’s been developed mentally and physically by Alabama coaches.
“I thought I was a mentally strong person when I got here. But that wasn’t the case,” Robinson said. “I’ve grown. They’ve made me a pretty good, mentally strong person. There are no days off. There’s no slacking.”
It’s happened, he said, from being pushed to his breaking point and beyond in off-season drills while working side-by-side with teammates.
“In my mind, I think I’m going to die,” Robinson said. “But I think about my teammates and I keep pushing myself. It’s the same in games. I can’t let these guys down. I can’t give up one play.
“I get out there and I just want to dominate. That’s my goal is to dominate everyone I go against.”
He’ll get that opportunity against multiple Ohio State linemen, including offensive tackle Taylor Decker, a third-year starter. Decker cited Robinson as a big reason why the Crimson Tide has allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns (three) and fewest yards per carry (2.8) of any FBS team this season.
“He’s a big guy, powerful who plays really well with his hands,” Decker said. “He’ll lock you out and shed you. He holds his gap well. He’s more so a problem in the run game than the pass game.”
Teammates consider Robinson a factor in both areas, although he has yet to record a sack this season after being the team leader as a freshman. As evidence, they cite his unique blend of physical skills. Among them: the ability to dunk a basketball despite weighing 320 pounds.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed (6-4, 315) confirmed that Robinson, a standout basketball player in high school, slammed home a few during a recent pick-up game between teammates at a recreation center in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Reed made sure to point out that he did, too.
So, what happens when Reed and Robinson play one-on-one?
“I’m slamming it on his bald head,” Reed said.
Would Robinson agree?
“No, he’d probably say he dunks more on me,” Reed said, smiling.
Either way, Reed said Robinson has more than lived up to his nickname of “Infamous A-Tron,” a blend of A’Shawn and Megatron given to him by teammates, during games this season. For Robinson, it’s simply a matter of representing Texas in the proper manner on a team that includes players from 21 states, plus Mexico. He plans to offer another reminder Thursday.
“Personally, I’m always relaxing before the game. But once you get to the stadium, you become a new man,” Robinson said. “You become an animal.”
Kind of like that wolf on his right arm, just above the words that remind Alabama teammates that this lineman is “Texas Made.”
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760
vs. Ohio State (12-1)
7:30 p.m. Thursday,