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WEST LAFAYETTE -- So now we know, with absolute certainty, that heralded Purdue freshman Gelen Robinson is a linebacker.
Now we know, with absolute certainty, that he's a defensive end.
Now he's a linebacker again, except when he's a defensive end, except that, well, talent wins, the best guys play and figure the son of former Boiler basketball All-American Glenn Robinson will get his chance somewhere.
“I don't have a preference,” he says. “I'm learning to play inside linebacker. It's a new feel, a new aspect.
“It doesn't matter where I play. anywhere the team needs me. I'll be happy at any position.”
Robinson was a rush end at Lake Central High School in northwestern Indiana when he wasn't winning state championships in wrestling (he was unbeaten his last two seasons) and track.
“I played that hybrid position, which was great for me because I rushed a lot. Now my biggest challenge is learning a new position. I'm taking all the knowledge I can get.”
Linebacker coach Marcus Freeman pushes the knowledge limit with Robinson and with fellow freshman standout Ja'Whan Bentley. They are, Freeman says, too good for sideline duty.
“They are good young men who are hungry. They want to be coached. They want to be coached hard. As a coach, that's all you can ask for. Guys who are eager to learn; guys who are hungry; guys who want to be pushed. That's what we want to do with those two.”
Unlike Robinson, the 6-2, 250-pound Bentley was strictly a linebacker at DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland. That's helped him in adjusting to the college game. But he and Robinson share a hard-hitting passion that Freeman wants.
“They have a chance to be special because of their bodies and physical presence on the field. That's a cornerstone in our (linebacker meeting) room. It's of utmost importance. If you're going to be a linebacker at Purdue, you're going to be a physical player. Those two guys are physical players and will have a chance because of that and their eagerness to get better.
“They're similar in their physical mentality. Gelen didn't play a lot of linebacker in high school, but he has some of the natural instincts you have at that position. Ja'Whan played middle linebacker. He knows a lot of the natural feel attributes you have to have. They're both very talented in different aspects. They both have a chance to be special.”
Senior linebacker Sean Robinson understands how special these freshmen can be.
“Ja'Whan looks like a NFL linebacker right now. Gelen is good. Both have all the athletic attributes. They're pushing everybody ahead of them extremely hard to be better. The key for them is adjusting to the speed of the game.”
Robinson's athletic heritage suggests he'll adjust fast. Besides his father, who also thrived at the NBA level for 12 years before knee injuries ended his career, there's older brother Glenn, who starred at Michigan before moving on to the NBA. He's a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I'm glad I've come to a school where my father had success,” Gelen Robinson says. “For me, it's a whole different sport. It's more about building the team and myself. Having my dad's name out there, and with my brother who he is, it's great to keep the Robinson tradition going.
“My dad lives in Atlanta, but he'll try to come up and see games. He'll get to see the football side of Purdue. I wouldn't say he's football savvy, but being a great athlete, he knows what it takes to compete at this level, at any sport. He loves the sport. He supports me and the program.”
Linebacker is a perceived Purdue weakness. College football expert Phil Steele rates the group in a last-place tie with Iowa in the 14-team Big Ten,
“Coach Freeman pushes us every day,” Sean Robinson says. “He texts us every night some inspirational quote. That's what we need.
“You have to live football to be successful because that's what other teams are doing.”
Gelen Robinson buys into the living and loving of the sport, and to the linebacker potential. No waiting needed.
“We're going to be good.”