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La Salle-Peru graduate C.J. Robbins has not played a down of football for Northwestern the past two seasons.
After missing his redshirt year with an injury, Robbins was hit with the injury bug again this year as he suffered a broken bone on the bottom of a toe on the second day of padded practice in August.
Despite the injuries, they have not been lost seasons for Robbins.
He’s grown off the field over the year and a half he’s been in Evanston, and he’s hit the weight room hard and is now 292 pounds after adding 10-15 pounds of muscle.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve gotten a lot of maturity,” Robbins said at halftime of the La Salle-Peru boys basketball team’s 60-44 win over Geneseo on Friday, which he attended with his family and teammate Deonte Gibson. “I’m bigger and stronger than high school and I’m keeping up with the guys. I feel like I’m just starting to hit my stride and I’ll go from here.”
Robbins, who is majoring in communications and planning on minoring in sociology, is moving forward in his career with the Wildcats as a defensive tackle after spending his time with the Cavaliers at defensive end.
The 6-foot-5 Robbins got his first real taste of playing on the interior of the defensive line during spring practices following his redshirt year.
“It’s been a learning experience. Last year I was injured most of the year but then I came into spring ball and that really opened my eyes to college football and the speed and everything,” Robbins said.
He also had to adjust to the increased size and contact on the inside.
“Dudes are big (on the inside),” Robbins said. “At end, you had a lot of time to get up field and it took longer for the contact to happen. In there, it’s right away — bang-bang real fast.”
While he hasn’t seen the field, Robbins has experienced college football, including Northwestern’s trip to Jacksonville, Fla. for the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 when the Wildcats beat Mississippi State 34-20 for their first bowl victory since 1949.
“It was a really good experience, especially since it was our first bowl win since 1949. It was a really big deal for us,” Robbins said. “This year’s team was so close. It was just a really fun time. We had a lot of fun with each other at our events and everything.”
In the offseason, Robbins hopes to improve.
“My goal for the offseason is to just keep learning the game,” said Robbins, who the Northwestern coaching staff hopes will be granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA. “I have a lot of good mentors in the older guys ahead of me like (senior-to-be) Will Hampton and Brian Arnfelt who just graduated. They have definitely taken me under their wing and teach me a lot, so I just want to keep moving forward and keep getting better at what I do.”
Robbins hopes his offseason work will help him earn a spot in the rotation next fall.
“I still have to prove myself. I literally haven’t done anything,” Robbins said. “I’m going to try my best and hopefully, I’ll be able to make it onto the field.”
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com.
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