A’Shawn Robinson’s tall tale begins the day he was born — March 21, 1995, his birth certificate confirms. He weighed almost 10 pounds.
Robinson grew big enough to play youth league football at 4 years old. Three years later, league officials questioned Robinson’s age and tried to ban him, prompting his mother, Abigail, to carry a copy of her son’s birth certificate to every game.
“He’s always been bigger,” Abigail said, “so everyone always has thought he was older.”
In her Fort Worth home, Abigail shares a photo of Robinson sitting on a metal chair during a junior high basketball game. He towers over his teammates, appearing like a man among boys.
Imagine how Robinson’s opponents felt.
“He was huge,” said UT Arlington baseball player Brady Cox, who played against Robinson in junior high before befriending him at Arlington Heights High School. “It definitely took us aback, especially going to Catholic private school, you just don’t see big guys like that very much. When he showed up, we’re like, ‘Well, OK, we’ve got a tall task ahead of us.’ It was literally a tall task.”
Robinson became the big man on campus at Heights the day he arrived. Former Heights coach Ged Kates remembers Robinson, a late enrollee after leaving All Saints’ Episcopal School, walking into freshman practice for the first time. Robinson, who stood 6-foot-4, appeared as a gift from heaven.
“I’ll never forget when he walked in a couple of days after we began freshman practice,” said Kates, now the head coach at Richland. “As a 14-year-old or whatever he was at the time, he already looked like a grown man. He never was pudgy. He never was anything but a specimen. Even that sometimes doesn’t mean the kid can play. But as soon as we saw him move, we knew we had something really special. It was instant.”
Now 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, Robinson is all grown up with somewhere to go. The University of Alabama defensive tackle accepted an invitation to attend the NFL Draft in Chicago, where he is expected to become the first Fort Worth ISD alumnus selected in the first round in 21 years.
Former Heights star Blake Brockermeyer, the 29th overall choice of the Carolina Panthers in 1995, expresses surprise he remains the city’s most recent first-round choice.
“That’s shocking to me,” said Brockermeyer, who now coaches at All Saints. “It’s truly a sad statement for Fort Worth ISD. ... Heights seems to be the one school getting guys to the NFL, although this is a long span in between. But with [Mike] Renfro, and [Tony] Franklin, myself and now A’Shawn, that’s pretty cool.”
Robinson once thought his talent might land him in the NBA. He received scholarship offers for basketball as well as for football.
His family now refers to basketball as Robinson’s “mistress.”
“It’s still my first love,” Robinson said. “I love both of them honestly, but the first sport I played was basketball. I was really good at both, and got scholarships for both. I think football picked me.”
After joining older brother Andre’s youth football team, Robinson actually quit football before his first practice ended.
Abigail drove up to find her 4-year-old son sitting under a tree, having turned in his equipment. It seems an older player had flipped him, and Robinson realized he didn’t like getting hit.
“I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Abigail said, “because they were still practicing. They said, ‘He quit.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, he’s not quitting, because I paid my money. He’s going to play.’ He ended up playing from then on.”
Despite his size, Robinson always seemed too nice for football.
Madolin Rosenthal, who taught speech at Heights and had Robinson as a student aide, was first struck by Robinson’s size-16 feet. His friendliness also stood out.
“This little freshman was not so little,” Rosenthal said. “He had the biggest feet ever. But he was so friendly immediately, and everyone loved him.”
Vicki Stellar, who taught Robinson in speech and became a mentor, calls Robinson a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant.” She once told Heights coaches about her fears for Robinson’s safety on the field.
“He just had that heart that was caring,” Stellar said. “He was just a sweet young man. I was afraid he was going to get hurt, because he was so sweet. Those guys he plays against are big, and they’re mean. ... He just wasn’t mean enough. I did not know a mean bone in that child’s body. He wasn’t that way. So it really concerned me. Obviously, when he puts his game-face on, he does well.”
The big kid with the big heart is ready for even bigger things.
“It’s just another accomplishment,” Robinson said. “It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to play at the professional level. I thank God for it every day. It’s just amazing to think I get to play on the professional level, and I have a chance to do what I did at the college level or better.”
April 28-30, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Schedule: Round 1, 7 p.m. April 28; Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. April 29; Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m. April 30.
TV: ESPN and NFL Network
1. Los Angeles Rams (From Tennessee)
2. Philadelphia (From Cleveland)
3. San Diego
7. San Francisco
8. Cleveland (From Miami through Philadelphia)
9. Tampa Bay
10. New York Giants
12. New Orleans
13. Miami (From Philadelphia)
15. Tennessee (From LA Rams)
20. New York Jets
27. Green Bay
28. Kansas City
Note: New England forfeited 29th overall pick.