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August 14, 2012

Classroom confidence carries over for Robinson

Demarco Robinson admits that his freshman season at Kentucky came up short of expectations, and the wide receiver blames a lack of confidence for his underwhelming first year in the Southeastern Conference.

Robinson shouldn't have the same problem as a sophomore.

UK coach Joker Phillips has heaped praise on the generously-listed 5-foot-10, 157-pound receiver this preseason, and Phillips said Robinson earned the accolades - and the self-assurance he needs to succeed on the field - with his performance in the classroom.

"Once grades came out after spring semester he felt really good about himself; not only did he accomplish things on the field, he accomplished things off the field also," Phillips said. "This summer he goes out and aces both his classes and a lot of that has to do with growing up and he's definitely a guy that he's grown up enough that you feel comfortable talking about him. He can handle the things we're saying about him."

Robinson was shy as a freshman, dwelling on mistakes and often keeping to himself outside of football. This spring that all changed as Robinson learned to listen to instruction from teachers, tutors and coaches.

"It was real tough early on because I got behind (academically)," said Robinson, a native of Ellenwood, Ga. "But once you get ahead, all you have to do is follow the system in the SEC and just do everything they tell you to do and you'll be alright."

Since spring Phillips has frequently talked about Robinson, and for good reason. After an spectacular spring game in which he racked up nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, Robinson has continued to develop throughout the summer and into fall camp.

"He's such a talented guy that understands what's going on, and that allows him to play faster," Phillips said. "He's a lot smoother with how he does things because he's so confident."

That confidence comes mostly from practices and intersquad scrimmages. Now Robinson would like to build some on game days. After finishing his freshman season with five catches for 17 yards, he's hoping it won't take long in 2012 to best his 2011 output.

Most of Robinson's newfound poise comes from realizing college isn't high school. He's now a different type of receiver, and a receiver unique to UK's team.

"The same things that make me good won't make La'Rod King good," Robinson said. "(I need to) make sure I catch it, learn how to get tackled, make a tight turn up the field, just really small things like that."

Being tackled often comes naturally - and sometimes too easily - for most players. Robinson's learning to be tackled with technique. Given his small stature, a hit from even an average SEC linebacker could force him to miss time.

Robinson told UK Athletics that one of his hidden talents is tumbling; it might not be hidden much longer as he tries to avoid big hits this season.

"(King) can take the hits head on," Robinson said. "I'm a smaller guy so I'll have to make them hit my side."

New wide receivers coach Pat Washington said Robinson is about 50 pounds lighter than most freshman receivers, but what he lacks in size, Robinson can make up for in strength.

Washington complimented Robinson's core strength, saying he needed help finding it, but that Robinson now knows how to use it, and it's part of the reason he's been succeeding since the spring.

His speed has played a part, too.

Robinson said he ran his last timed 40-yard sprint in 4.4 seconds.

"(His size) won't hurt him at all; DeSean Jackson is little and he's in the NFL, look at him," King said. "Everybody is different, everybody's body is different. Size shouldn't be a factor. It can be, but not for him."

Jackson has excelled in the NFL on special teams. Robinson is hoping to do the same for UK, which failed last season to find a gamebreaker to replace Randall Cobb, who jumped to the NFL after the 2010 season.

The Cats were 88th in the country last season in average yards per kickoff return, at 20.3 yards. More eye-opening, UK ranked next-to-last in average punt return yards, at just under two yards a return.

Robinson's speed gives the Cats hope for better field position in 2012.

"It's going real good," Robinson said. "I'm just trying to make it my second nature. I definitely think I could be that guy, along with all the other guys."

Whether Robinson's newfound confidence will result in an impressive 2012 campaign remains to be seen, but now that Robinson is conquering confidence, he'll need to focus on handling pressure.

"He's grown a lot since last year, he really has," Washington said. "You hope the pressure won't get to him, because there will be pressure. If Coach Phillips is talking about him then it's in the newspapers and other teams are seeing it as well.

"But they haven't seen him on the field consistently, so they are not sure exactly what he can do. He will be the smallest guy out there so maybe they won't be able to find him."


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