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Penn State Alum Michael Robinson To Host Benefit for 'Excel to Excellence'; Speaks With Philly2Philly

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Former Penn State football star Michael Robinson enjoys helping people.

In 2005, his last year in Happy Valley, he quarterbacked the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 record and a thrilling, triple-overtime win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Penn State finished 3rd in the Associated Press rankings that year, which was their highest season-ending ranking in a decade.  

The following year as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Robinson was part of a group that paved the way for Frank Gore’s career-best 1,695 rushing yards. The most in a single season by any tailback in the 49ers’ storied, 69-year history.  

Lest we forget, in January 2011, as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, Robinson made a terrific block on former New Orleans Saints pro-bowl linebacker, Jonathan Vilma. What was so significant about that particular block?  It helped ignite Marshawn Lynch’s now famous, 67-yard touchdown scamper. Arguably, the best run of all time. Robinson ended his eight-year NFL career as a part of Seattle’s 2013 Super Bowl winning team.  

Now, just as he once led teams to victory and ball carriers to daylight, Robinson is trying to lead students into the future through an organization he founded, called Excel to Excellence.  

Robinson’s foundation seeks to engage disadvantaged youth in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.  The goal is to incentivize students to attend class more often, conduct themselves with decorum once they arrive, improve scholastic performance and become involved in serving the community.

Michael Robinson doesn’t lead running backs into the end zone anymore.  But just like the gridiron, he is forging a path for others, where there once was none.

Philly2Philly’s Earl Myers spoke to the most valuable Penn State football player of the 21st century about his life, career, his passion for philanthropy and more:Michael Robinson

Earl Myers: What was the last TV show you binge-watched?  

Michael Robinson: Catching up on How to Get Away with Murder.  Caught up last year, then once I got caught up, I was on it every week.  

EM: How did Frank Beamer (former head coach at Virginia Tech) and Al Groh (former head coach at Virginia let you get out of the state?  

MR: I like Al Groh, but he had just gotten hired and was late in the recruiting process. I oftentimes think to myself, “What if?”  I really liked Al Groh, like his son and everything they had going over there, but they got there a little too late.  Frank Beamer and his coaching staff … loved Virginia Tech, but I really wanted to pave my own path.  I didn’t want to throw an interception and it be like, wow, Mike Vick wouldn’t have thrown that pick.  Or, throw a touchdown and people say, “He threw that just like Vick.”  I wanted to go somewhere quarterbacks could be compared to me, and that’s what I have at Penn State.  Plus, I spoke to Vick a lot and he told me if I wanted to play quarterback, maybe I should go someplace else [Laughs].  And remember, his brother was a year after me in high school.

EM: From your perspective, who’s the best high school athlete in Virginia state history, Michael Vick or Allen Iverson?  

MR: Actually, Ronald Curry!  Highest recruit in football and basketball.  I don’t see how it gets any better.  I remember seeing all those guys play and there just wasn’t a guy who captured the United States like Curry.  I’m all about versatility and that guy was one of the most versatile athletes I’ve ever seen.

EM: Pete Carroll seems like an effervescent guy.  How does he compare to some of the more publicly stoic coaches you played for, like Joe Paterno and Mike Singletary?

MR: They’re different in approach, but they all mean well and want the same goals.  It’s interesting because I get asked that a lot and the philosophy of running the football, playing good defense, and playing with discipline, are principals both Pete and Joe Pa stood for. The just had different ways of approaching it.  

From a psychological standpoint, Pete made players feel like they were in control.  He orchestrated the whole thing, but he made it more fun and contemporary in terms of bringing music and pop culture to the locker room.

EM: Former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker recently talked about a scrap between Vernon Davis and Larry Allen.  Were you on the field for that? And did anyone ever try you during your career?  

MR: Yeah … well … um …, it really wasn’t much [laughs].  Larry basically laid it down and made it clear, you really don’t want this and Vernon understood and that was basically the end of it.  He’s one of the greatest offensive lineman the NFL has ever seen … after he speaks, things happen!

As for me, yeah, a few times.  Actually, the current linebackers coach for the Atlanta Falcons, Jeff Ulbrich tried to try me one time during practice at the end of training camp … I was a young stud, so I was all for it and took it to him.  But for his part, he later explained it was about bringing some life to practice, and I agreed … it never made its way into the locker room.  

EM: You knocked out several players in your career with what seemed like one of the hardest heads in the NFL.  How many concussions did you sustain and how concerned are you about their cumulative impact?

MR: You know what, I don’t know how many concussions I sustained.  I know what the technical definition of a concussion is, but it’s not like I can see inside my brain to know what’s happened.  

I do know I was diagnosed 2 or 3 times in college and twice in the National Football League.  But I wasn’t concerned, even when I switched to fullback.  I took a hard look at this game from a technical standpoint.  You talk about a hard head, but it was really about leverage, plus, I took good care of my body and had a lot of support from the Seahawks’ training staff.  

I wouldn’t change anything about my career or playing football, especially, because of the life it afforded me.  I feel great … I came out with no major injuries and I’m not really concerned with the cumulative effect.  I tell people all the time, if playing football took a couple of years off my life so my family can live better, I’ll make that deal any day of the week!

EM: Everyone from mothers to President Obama have weighed in on the safety of football.  Less football seems like the only elixir, how much do you worry about your sons playing the game?

MR: My youngest son plays … he’s six years old.  My oldest son was playing but he sustained a concussion in his first practice in middle school.  And being a father and knowing this game and how people react to certain things … I won’t let him play anymore.  I think it’s a case by case basis and all about the kid but I’m not going to push my kid to play.  

If you asked me that when I was younger, I probably would have said my sons would play and they’d have no choice but being around this game and seeing the dangers of it, I’m not going to push them.    

I always tell a story about how I went to a club as a rookie in San Francisco with Gore, Vernon and a few other teammates, and I noticed they didn’t have any V.I.P. tables for football players.  Those tables were reserved for dot.com guys and venture capitalists … I then realized, they don’t have to go to treatment in the morning.  They don’t have to battle the plantar fasciitis that’s been killing me my entire football career.  I decided then and there, I needed to use football as a vehicle … take some sustainable skills from this game that can carry me through the rest of my life.  We’re built to be successful, it’s just that sometimes guys don’t know how to change X’s and O’s into life terms.

EM: You look like you could still play, what does your workout regimen look like?  

MR: I try to get to the gym about 3 times a week at home.  And when I’m on the road, I work out with bands.  I call it my jail workout [Laughter] because it’s what I can do in my hotel room.  It gives me a chance to think about strategies for my foundation or what I might want to say on television, and before I know it, I’ve done 300 or 400 sit ups … 200 or 300 pushups.  These bands fit easily in my bag and it’s probably one of the best workouts you can get.

EM: Let’s talk about your foundation. What is Excel to Excellence?  

MR: It’s a foundation where we want to create innovative programs to get kids into higher education.  Through guidance counselors and academic advisors, we identify 30 student-athletes (boys and girls), whose socio-economic situations aren’t as good as others but aspire to reach higher education. 

So we created a reverse fantasy football format called TEAM Excel.  We divide them into three teams of 10 and our TEAM leaders (five for each team) provide the proper motivation, encouragement and direction to help kids compete with each other for scores.  

Each week, students receives scores for cumulative GPA, attendance and community service and a winning team is announced weekly, along with a student of the week.  We then give prizes like gift cards, etc., to the winners.  

We’re creating a culture of accountability within these students.  Every day, they think about how their decisions affect their grades, or attendance and how you have to be there to get your blessings.  I just told my son, “Opportunities comes with an expiration date!”  

Finally, we want stop a lot of the issues that are going on when you talk about Ferguson, you talk about police shootings, or even not being able to use credit or understanding the value of a dollar … we’re teaching life skills.

EM: Your website mentions the program as having been a huge success since its inception.  Can you share some of those successes?  

MR: The rhetoric is changing … when we first started, kids were arguing over shoes, or whose phone was the best.  Now, the conversation is about, why didn’t you come to class … I’ll pick you up for school?  Do you need help coming to study hall?  I need your help with the service learning project [The community service part of the program].  

To date (and this number changes), but to date, we’ve seen a 26% increase in their overall GPA.

We have to redefine what success looks like to our young people.  Oftentimes, in our communities they think you have to be a football or basketball player … or a rapper.  But what about the janitor who has been at your high school for 40 years?  He doesn’t have any bills and he’s maxed out his 401k … he just works because it’s fun.  That is financial freedom … that is success to me.  

EM: There is a benefit coming up to support the foundation on April 15th, what’s that all about?

MR: We want to basically introduce the program to State College. We want to talk to the school system up there … get in the high schools … middle schools, because I want a kid in State College Area High for example, to have the experience of knowing he’s competing against a kid in Compton, CA, or Richmond, VA or Seattle, WA.  

That’s important because when you talk about jobs, you’re competing against people all over the world, so we want kids to have that opportunity.  

We expect to have a lot of letterman in town that night, especially several guys from the 2005 Orange Bowl championship team … Lavar Arrington, as well.  Though it’s not been confirmed, we hope to have coach Franklin come by to address the letterman on how things [With the current football team] are going.  I want this to be annual … the kids in State College, as well as the football program, deserve it.

WHAT: Blue-White benefit. Join Super Bowl Champion Michael Robinson and special guests for an evening of entertainment, libations and hors d’oeuvres. 100% of the proceeds benefit Excel to Excellence and its TEAM EXCEL program. TEAM EXCEL is a unique “reverse fantasy football” concept that allows students to compete based on grades, attendance and community service hours.

 

WHEN: Friday, April 15th 6:30pm – 9:30pm

 

WHERE:  Pegula Ice Arena, The Club

                Pegula Ice Arena, University Dr, University Park, PA 16802

For Ticket & Sponsorship Information, visit exceltoexcellence.org

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

 

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