NORMAL, Ill. — In business, it’s the salesman who delivers the final speech to wrap up a deal.
In baseball, it’s the relief pitcher who secures the final few outs of a victory.
For the Illinois State football team, it’s James Robinson. The closer.
“Where James has grown most is his mindset,” Redbird running backs coach Khenon Hall said. “He wants to be the closer. He wants to be the guy.”
Already acknowledged among the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s best, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Robinson has excelled late in games to finish off recent ISU victories.
— Illinois State FB (@RedbirdFB) October 9, 2018
“Going into the huddle a lot of guys tell me I need to make a play,” Robinson said. “That’s what I try to do all the time. I might not get any yards on one play, and the next play I might get 10. I just get on a roll and I keep going.”
The No. 3 rusher in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at 581 yards, Robinson ran for 76 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter of ISU’s win at Colorado State and churned out 46 yards on 13 attempts last Saturday in the final period as the Redbirds rallied past Western Illinois.
“When the game’s on the line, he’s going to ramp up,” said ISU coach Brock Spack. “A great competitor is going to do that anyway, but I think he ramps it up a little more. We’ve got some other talented backs, but in the fourth quarter he’s the guy we really trust right now.”
Midway through his junior season, Robinson ranks 14th in school history with 1,836 rushing yards. He is 164 yards shy of becoming the 12th Redbird to reach the 2,000-yard milestone. Robinson also is tied for seventh with 22 career rushing touchdowns.
Spack saw Robinson early in his Rockford Lutheran High School career and offered him a scholarship during a team camp at Hancock Stadium.
“You could see he was a really good player. He’s very sudden. However fast he is, he gets there really quickly,” Spack said. “His top end speed is much better than it was, and I think he will continue to get faster. He looks and plays like an Iowa tailback.”
— Illinois State FB (@RedbirdFB) October 7, 2018
The Illinois High School Association record holder in rushing yards (9,045) and rushing touchdowns (158), Robinson also received fleeting scholarship interest from Iowa as he worked to qualify academically to play Division I football.
“He was behind in school because he was young. He was a 16-year-old senior,” said Spack. “He got on schedule and made it, actually made it pretty easily.”
“I had to concentrate on grades. It was more like I did enough to get here,” Robinson said. “In high school I wasn’t as focused as I am now. I’m doing better than I did in high school. I thought college would be a lot harder, but it’s really not as long as you do your stuff and go to class.”
Robinson requested No. 25 upon arrival at ISU but not because Redbird career rushing leader Marshaun Coprich had worn it on his way to 5,196 yards from 2012-15.
“When I asked for the number, they said I had big shoes to fill,” said Robinson. “It was just me trying to make a name for myself. Ever since I started I’ve had No. 25.”
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The 12th-ranked Redbirds welcome Southern Illinois to Hancock Stadium on Saturday for a 2 p.m. homecoming game. Salukis coach Nick Hill knows his team has a challenge in Robinson.
“He might be the best back in our league, and we have a lot of good ones in this league,” Hill said. “There’s been a lot of games where they put the ball on his shoulders, and that’s who they want to be.”
This article is written by Randy Reinhardt from The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.